Thursday, October 30, 2014

Paxman vs Brand - full interview - BBC News

Russell Brand has become a rare, gracious and lucid voice of  reason in our society.  (Exclamation points.)

Isn't it a bit surprising, a bit of a shock, and yes, a bit of a shame, that we should have to wait for a mere "comedian" to take up this mantle?  A shame, isn't it, that we should have to wait for Russell Fucking Brand to speak the truth so directly and effectively to the abuse of power that is drowning us?  

Well, I'm just grateful.  Thanks Russell!  I hope that people listen.  It's sad that a clown has to step forward as a statesman while all of the statesmen are busy turning themselves into clowns. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Should Presidents Have Prior Military Service?

This would never occur to me as an important consideration, but I saw something recently on Facebook.  There are hundreds of snarky, disrespectful things being posted these days about President Obama.  They run from the truly offensive (Witch Doctor photoshops) to mere attempts to be clever with innuendos about his supposed lack of credentials.  Among the later was a picture with the question:  Should we require our presidents to have prior military service?

This is, of course, a dig at Presidents Obama and Clinton, not coincidentally both Democrats.  It is a short sighted hit-piece that has obviously not been thought through.

For one thing, many presidents in recent memory have not had any military experience at all, prior or otherwise.  Of Democrats, besides Obama and Clinton, there's FDR and Woodrow Wilson.  Would anyone say that they were poorly prepared to be president?  Well yes, lots of people would, actually.  They were Democrats, and for a hundred years now Democrats have received the treatment.  FDR and Wilson are, in spite of everything, justifiably revered for their performance in office.  Of Republicans, there's Hoover, Coolidge and Harding.  Maybe those three could have used the extra training and discipline, but that's just me.

But how about mediocre service?  Would mediocre service help at all to prepare somebody to be president?  After all, they can't all be Eisenhowers.  President Eisenhower was the greatest West Point graduate of the century, eminently successful in matters military and political.  Importantly, his military experience was at the highest level of command, but how many can say that?  None of the others, it turns out.

Take George W. Bush, please.  He juiced his way into the Texas Air National Guard in a naked attempt by a rich, powerful family to protect him from the dangers of Vietnam.  His service was thoroughly mediocre, and that's putting it politely.  The skylarking, the long periods of being AWOL, not a distinguished period of service.  He was a mediocre president too, and that's being generous.

How about Ronald Reagan, a great hero to some.  Reagan took a home-study Army Extension course in 1937 and it got him a commission in the Army Reserve.  He was activated in 1942, albeit on limited service due to eyesight issues.  He was assigned to the 1st Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, and later worked for the War Loan Drive.  Less than heroic, with no command responsibilities.  No distinguished service, and no relevant experience to be the president.

Nixon?  Anybody remember Nixon?  He was a supply officer in the Pacific and worked at mundane tasks on islands far behind the point of the spear.  Mediocre. 

JFK's wartime experience was actually heroic, there was nothing mediocre about it.  But it was short on command experience.  He captained a PT boat and saw a lot of action.  Ditto, George H.W. Bush, heroic and exceptional.  He piloted a Grumman Avenger and captained a flight crew of three.  He also saw a lot of action, the dangerous kind, and both he and JFK came close to death when they were sunk/shot down, and both lost crew members to death.  Maybe the experiences shaped their "commander in chief" style, and maybe in a good way, but not so you'd want to require men to have done such things.

Gerald Ford could have skated on combat.  He was a lawyer already when the war started.  Rather than wait to be drafted into the rear-echelon officer corps he joined the Navy.  After a couple of years as a training officer he requested sea duty and spent the last two years of the war as a gunnery officer on an aircraft carrier that saw considerable combat service.  Admirable, and almost heroic, but . . . 

Jimmy Carter was a Naval officer, and he actually had command responsibilities as the XO and engineering officer of nuclear submarines.  I think that's pretty heroic even in peace time.  Probably didn't help him as president.  The engineering part might even have held him back.  Engineers like logical solutions that are susceptible to  proof, and those are rarely available to a president.

Carter and Ford had very creditable service with some command responsibilities in semi-heroic situations.  Neither is anyone's favorite president, let's face it.  

Here's a good one:  would anyone suggest that George Patton would have made a good president?  That would be a stretch, wouldn't it? 

So what would be the point of requiring prior military service for our presidents?  None at all, except as pointed barbs to be aimed at Obama and Clinton.  Both men have done a fine job as president without it.  (I can hear the screaming from here!  Nine to twelve time zones away!  Oh, the agony of giving any credit at all to these fine, if imperfect, men!)  There would be arguments about their successes, but the lie to those arguments would come into sharp focus if the arguments were extended to include FDR and Wilson.  And they would be extended.  All four could be painted with the "progressive" brush, and that's a curse these days among so-called conservatives. 

It would be an almost impossible thing to require anyway.  Wouldn't it require a constitutional amendment?  That's not going to happen.  It's just the right-wing echo chamber getting their snark on.  As distasteful as that is, we should be used to it by now. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Vocabulary Of Baseball

I'll bet that most of my Farang friends are watching the World Series.  Of my Thai friends, I'd be surprised if any were watching at all.

For the uninitiated, if you've only seen baseball on television you may miss the fact that the field is very big, and there are big spaces in between the players.  TV tends to compress all of the images.  As a great man once said, the object of baseball is to "hit it where they ain't."

A ball hit to the outfield may be a mere "fly ball;" it may be a "line drive;" it may be a "blooper;" or a "Texas leaguer;" or a "floater."  A line drive may be a "frozen rope;" a fly ball may be a "dying quail."  A line drive may go up a "power alley," and travel all the way to the wall. 

A ball to the outfield may "fall in" or be "run down."  It may go down the line or into the corner, or it may be hit into "the gap."  If three fielders are closing for the catch but they all miss it, the ball falls into the "Bermuda triangle."  (A new one on me.) 

A ball hit to the infield is usually just a "ground ball," but it may be a "dribbler;" or a "chopper;" or a "bunt."  They may be down the line, some even traveling "over the bag;" they may be "in the hole," or "up the middle."  They may even be said to "have eyes."  Balls hit in the air in the infield are generally either "pop ups" or "floaters."

If the batter strikes the ball but it doesn't go into fair territory, the ball may be "fouled back;" or "fouled off;" or "fouled out of play."  Or it may just be "foul tipped."

If you've never played baseball, you may be forgiven to think that there's not much going on.  But believe me, for a baseball fan, the whole thing can be quite exciting.  

Space, The Final Frontier!

“Interstellar” is coming out soon.  The story includes interstellar travel, and, I think, intergalactic travel as well.  My question is this:  why is this kind of enterprise only conceivable in a fictional setting? 

I see scientists on TV frequently talking about space travel, but it all has to do with how much fuel, or what propulsion systems, and how many thousands of years at the speed of light would it take to get anywhere.  They are much more comfortable speaking about travel around our own solar system.   I wonder why they limit their imaginations so? 

Probably it’s because they want to be taken seriously in their own academic communities.  They don’t want to sound like kooks.  Plus, they must speak in the language of their academic communities.  They limit their speculations to linear travel in conventionally propelled vehicles because to do otherwise would require them to resort to the language of science fiction, like warp drives, hyperspace, the folding of space and so forth.  They’re afraid that it would make them sound like game-boys, or a bit deranged.  They are right to worry, I think.  Scientific academia is very unforgiving of eccentricity. 

There are, however, reasonable things to be said about the prospects of intergalactic travel that would not require millennia to get anywhere.

The most important point is that intergalactic travel will finally be achieved by a mechanism that we now know little or nothing about.  Of the two, I think that “nothing” has a better shot of being true.

But maybe it’s more like the stick that we are playing with idly in our cage before the little light goes on:  oh!  I can use this stick to reach that piece of fruit over there! 

Consider the problem of lighting our domiciles.  Up to the Eighteenth Century this was a real challenge.  They don’t call it “midnight” for nothing.  Most people were asleep by eight o’clock and up again at four because they went to bed when it got dark, or shortly thereafter.  Candles were expensive.  It only got a little bit better with gas lighting in what, the Nineteenth Century?  I should look that up.  If you had suggested to anyone at the time that very soon it would be possible to light up every domicile in the world like a Christmas tree for as many hours per day as you chose to do so, they would have thought that you were crazy.  “Impossible!” they’d say, “there’s not enough wax and tallow and whale oil in the world!”  It didn’t require more bees working harder or more whales suddenly becoming available.  All that was required was one Thomas Edison. 

Our Thomas Edison of the infinite void will reveal himself to us in time, if we are still here to receive him.  If science and human society are permitted the luxury of continuing at an even keel for a few more centuries we should have the time to get there.  Whether we will enjoy that luxury appears to be in some doubt these days, but look for the good!  History is as full of bad times, catastrophes and sheer, unadulterated stupidity as the ocean is full of salt water.  We’re still here, aren’t we?  So there’s hope.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Happy Birthday, Universe!

Back in the mid-Seventeenth Century there was a fellow named Bishop Ussher who was quite the little thinker.  By a close study of the revealed literature of Judaism and other religions, plus secular sources that were earlier, he calculated that the moment of creation happened at 9:00 a.m. on October 27th, in the year 4004 BC.  Many people actually took him seriously.

Happy 6,018th Birthday to all that exists!  

The good bishop, and others, tinkered with this calculation over the immediately following years.  So now you will find that date variously reported as the 26th of October; the 23rd of October; “the night immediately preceding October 23rd;" and even “sunset in Jerusalem on October 22nd.”  Martin Luther felt like a little bit of precision would go a long way in this matter, so he just ballparked it as “the year 4000 BC.” 

Before you think that all of this should seem ridiculous to us in the modern world, recall that America is currently awash in “Young Earth Creationists” who take the good bishop at his word. 

Science, of course, has something to say about all of this.  The light, they say, that can now be seen coming from the edge of the universe has taken some thirteen billion years and change to reach us, so the universe must be at least that old.  The believers are having none of it. 

In their favor, they do believe in a God that is omnipotent, and omnipresent, and all-knowing and all the rest.  So this God could easily have made the entire thing to only seem to be thirteen billion years old.  That would be an interesting trick, but I have never read of the reasons for God doing such a thing being addressed.   

It would reinforce the greatness of their God if it were true, because only a lavishly omnipotent God could create a universe that so perfectly mimicked having existed for thirteen billion years.  It would speak to the mind of God too, because to pull that wool so far over the eyes of the world’s scientists such a creator-God would need to be not only supremely powerful, but also extremely clever and very mischievous.  Those scientists are pretty clever themselves. 

Bishop Ussher lived in a world that did not know the age of things, so six thousand years could seem reasonable to them.  Six thousand years was a long time to them, it represented a time before history as they understood it.  They knew something of the scale of the heavens, but they still believed that the earth was located at the center.  They knew the approximate age of the pyramids, but of things older than the pyramids they were in the dark.  Things like Gobekli Tepli, and the cave paintings, and dinosaurs, were either not known or were improperly understood.  So they could have calculated the date of creation without considering the mind of God.  We no longer have that luxury.  We know that if God created the universe to appear older than it is, God’s reasons for doing so must be considered. 

I was convinced as a teenager that it was a mistake to speculate about the mind of God.  I still feel that way, and I would add that it is a waste of time too.  If God is merely mischievous, you’ll get away with it, but if God still has that vengeful, proud streak, you’re just asking for trouble.  It may be an affront to God. 

Science is a useful pursuit, but even religion may have a place in our earthly lives.  Better though, if we just let God be God, with a smile and full respect for the mystery, and concentrate on making life on earth a less terrible thing than we found it.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What Mark Upon This World?

What mark will we make, we bloggers, upon this world?  What stain will we leave to prove that we were ever here at all?

There was a highly entertaining blogger named Riley, up until his sudden exit from this and any other scenes in July, 2013.  The blog can still be found at:

Boy, that was one mighty entertaining blog right there.  I, and lots of other people, really enjoyed the hijinks over there.  Mr. Riley, aka James Riley, aka J.B.S. Riley, was a real hoot, in life, and here's the good news:  he's still a real hoot after all this time, and it seems like Google's policy will be to allow him to remain a hoot indefinitely.   I just checked the site and it's unchanged since the last post on July 24, 2013.  It's possible that Google will allow it to remain, unchanged, in its entirety, for all time.  You should go over and start reading.  Read a hundred thousand words!  It will all repay the effort.  Riley was good. 

What evidence do I have that such an eternal presence is possible?  Check out the Blogspot blogs.  There are thousands of blogs, perhaps millions, that were set up a long time ago and then allowed to lapse.  This blog right here has been nurtured will love since 2007, but some are not so lucky.  Some blogs are abandoned after a few months of halfhearted posting, some after one single solitary post.  They  remain there, sorry things, and if you want to take the name for a new blog of your own you will be disappointed.  They will remain there, poor stunted, moribund things, probably forever, taking up space, and some very catchy names by the way.

This is probably a function of the huge, luxurious excess of "cloud" storage space that now exists.  My blog, how many thousands of posts are there?  But how many bits or bytes is that?  Enough to worry about?  It's just text, most of it.  The pictures and vid's are elsewhere, aren't they?  Text requires almost no space at all!  Why not leave it there when I die!  Forever!  Perhaps posterity will discover some value in it that Google can monetize!  One never knows.

So maybe I will be appreciated for having written this blog.  Some day!  Perhaps a hundred, or two hundred, or a thousand years from now.  Appreciated for some clever turn of phrase, or for my socially progressive attitude, or maybe for my wonderful musical suggestions.  But I'll tell you right now, if people in the future are still paying attention to old school blogs from these Dark Ages of ours, they'll be paying attention to the Doghouse Riley's of our benighted and dimwitted world, and not to me.  Riley will be searchable.  Riley got some serious hit counts, lots of re-posts, and lots of mentions up there where it counts.  Those will be the mechanics of the future searches.  That's how they'll find "the good stuff." And don't worry, I'm not bitter.  He really was better than me in every way.  I'd rather read him than me, myself. 

So if you are a visitor from the future, thanks for stopping by.  I hope that you pass a good time, I really do.  If you get bored, try stopping by over at  That Riley, he's a real hoot. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

On Pupils And Students

I had thought that the words pupil and student were more or less interchangeable.  My feeling, maybe it was just a feeling? was that a pupil was someone who went to school, while a student was someone who studied.  But, meaning more or less the same thing.

I recall joking while I was in high school that I was more of a pupil than a student, because I did, indeed, go to school, but I never actually studied.

It is possible that I was correct in the American sense of the terms.  The English, however, seem to see more of a distinction, based on etymology.  My Oxford Concise defines a pupil as "one who is taught by another," and a student as "one who studies at secondary or higher education."  So there are elementary school pupils and high school and university students.  This because pupil is based in words that describe children.

There would be a certain rhythm to that.

The question was posed to me directly by a Thai friend.  They are full of questions like this.  "What is the difference between a pupil and a student?"

The two equivalent words in Thai are used in a more clear cut manner.  A "nak-rien" attends elementary school or high school, while a "nak-suksa" attends university.  "Rien" is the verb meaning to study; "suksa" has the broader meaning of learning, which implies more understanding.

I really learn a lot when I consider these sincere, relevant questions.  Thanks, guys!