Slow Going in November

Yes, I know.  I’ve been very inattentive here.  i may be capitulating to focusing on fewer things — as when you have to take your eyes away from the window in a speeding train because the slap-slap-slap of passing poles, fences, cows and trees jellies up your brain.


Don’t know what I’ll do about posting here… cease all together or bear down on two or three themes…  more later

Fred Branfman Dies at 72; Exposed U.S. Covert Bombing of Laos

The peace activist and author Fred Branfman has died of ALS at the age of 72. Branfman exposed the covert U.S. bombing of Laos. In the 1960s and 1970s, in what became the largest bombing campaign in history, the United States dropped more than two million tons of bombs on the small Southeast Asian country. Branfman interviewed refugees and helped illuminate their plight for other journalists and activists, including world-renowned linguist Noam Chomsky, who traveled to Laos in 1970. Speaking at Harvard University last year, Chomsky praised Branfman’s work.

Noam Chomsky: “He’s the person who worked for years, with enormous courage and effort, to try to expose what were called the ‘secret wars.’ The secret wars were perfectly public wars which the media were keeping secret, government. And Fred — this was in Laos — he finally did succeed in breaking through, and a tremendous exposure of huge wars that were going on.”

More at Democracy Now

Artic Ice Thinning; Reindeer Seeking Shelter

“One of Norway’s hottest summers on record has caused overheated reindeer to take refuge in a highway tunnel located in the far north of the country.” from Earthweek

“…measurements show the snowpack has thinned from 14 inches to 9 inches in the western Arctic and from 13 inches to 6 inches in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, north and west of Alaska.”  from Earthweek

Participatory Surveillance

One of George Orwell’s great insights and fears was not, as in 1984, a draconian dictatorship imposed on the populace but of a participatory one. For the proper benefits (even if only perceived) men will join most anything.  We can see this in many ways in the modern world, accelerating with social media of all kinds.  Well here comes another chance:

Surveil Me!  Surveil Me!

An increasing number of the nation’s auto insurance companies have a new proposition: Let them track every second of your driving in exchange for an annual discount that can reach into the hundreds of dollars if you behave yourself on the road.

In theory, everyone wins here. Progressive, Allstate and State Farm — among the most aggressive of the larger companies that are pursuing this strategy — attract better drivers who crash less often. Customers who sign up for the optional programs can pay premiums based more on how they drive and less on their age, gender or credit history.

At the moment, State Farm and Progressive are not raising rates on people who sign up for monitoring and prove to be terrible drivers. Participation is voluntary, and Progressive, the early adopter in usage-based insurance, says that close to 15 percent of its customers are already enrolled.

Still, as more people sign up, the standard rate will start to feel like a penalty for those who decline to participate…

NYTimes Lieber

Of course somewhere in the big data every purchase I make is being tracked, my preferences, locations, size of purchase…  But we all better start wondering where the line is to be drawn

Demanding Humane Treatment for Refugees Abroad, at Home Not So Much

From Eusebio Elizondo,  the auxiliary bishop of Seattle and chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Migration.

… other nations receive millions of refugees, not just thousands. Lebanon, for example — a country of 4.5 million — has received more than 1 million Syrian refugees in the past two years. Can we not do right by a much smaller population?

The real issue here is who we are as Americans. As a leader in human rights protection around the world, we often instruct other nations to receive refugees or protect human rights. Yet when child refugees appear on our own border, we struggle to respond in a humane way. Calls for deploying the National Guard and more border enforcement, for example, suggest that these children and families threaten our national security when they are the ones running from terror. Instead of sending an army to the border, we should be sending an army of child welfare and mental health experts.

[In addition] we need to ask ourselves some tough questions and determine how our nation — the largest economy in the world and the most powerful — can reset our policies toward Central America, our own back yard.

We provide the market and the weapons that make the drug cartels and gangs stronger. Our trade policies have devastated low-skilled industries in these countries, particularly agriculture. And the lack of accountability and transparency in many Central American governments can be traced to our support for military dictatorships in the region during the Cold War. In many ways, this is a crisis of our own making.

Bravo for the Bishop

In Iraq : Nonviolent Resistance against ISIS

… over the weekend, residents of Mosul pushed back against ISIS destruction of local landmarks and shrines. When fighters from the Islamic State group loaded with heavy explosives converged on the site of the Crooked Minaret Mosulis living nearby rushed to the courtyard below the minaret, sat on the ground and linked arms to form a human chain to protect it, two residents who witnessed the event told The Associated Press on Monday.

They told the fighters, If you blow up the minaret, you’ll have to kill us too, the witnesses said.

The militants backed down and left, said the witnesses, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation from the militants.

AP News

Women Religious x 2

The Church of England voted to allow women bishops in its ranks:

The House of Bishops recorded 37 votes in favor, two against, and one abstention; the House of Clergy had 162 in favor, 25 against, and four abstentions; and in the House of Laity there were 152 in favor, 45 against, and five abstentions.

This came 18 months after a similar vote was defeated.

Quiet rejoicing in many quarters, though not among those who believe the Bible commands male leadership.

Many women interpret the Bible as Fletcher once did. According to a BBC report, more than 2,000 women within the Church of England signed a petition against the change.

Explaining why she would be voting against the legislation, lay member Sarah Finch said during Monday’s debate, “The pattern for church life that we find in scripture points to a God-given male leadership.”

 What will happen when a Bibletist refuses to serve under a female, as was made possible in the compromise ruling, will be interesting to watch.


And similar tides are rising among Mormon women.  Here Cadence Woodland, a lifelong Mormon, whose faith was punctured by revelations of Mormon contributing to a California anti-gay-marriage ballot proposition, lays out the latest:

LAST month, Kate Kelly, a feminist Mormon lawyer who had called on the Mormon Church to open the priesthood to women, was excommunicated on the charge of apostasy. John P. Dehlin, who runs a popular podcast on hot-button church issues and has loudly advocated for the church to welcome gay men and lesbians, also was threatened with expulsion. Other Mormons have faced sanctions for participating in online forums questioning the church’s positions on these and other matters.

My faith, not just in the good will of church leadership but in the central message of Mormonism, has crumbled. In December, I stopped attending services. I have no plans to return.

The church will continue to lose members like me until it realizes that messages about diversity and inclusion are hollow when excommunication and censorship are the responses to dissent. While the church invests in missionary work, especially overseas, an unwelcoming posture is likely to hinder its growth.  NY Times: Woodland

Maybe there are similar pushes out there in other mainstream faiths… Jews, Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Sunni Muslim, Shite Muslim, Buddhist, Therevada and Mahayan… goodness the future seems a long way….

Who/Where are the Race Haters?

Interesting data pulled from hate sites on the web

The percentage of Stormfront’s target audience that joins is actually higher in areas with more minorities [than in those, such as Idaho, where there are few]. This is particularly true when you look at Stormfront’s members who are 18 and younger and therefore do not themselves choose where they live.

Among this age group, California, a state with one of the largest minority populations, has a membership rate 25 percent higher than the national average.

And Jews, but a few percentage points, are more hated than Blacks.  See graphic

Amazon v Hachette

David Streitfeld in the New York Times business section has a long, even-handed look at the latest battle between Amazon and its various enemies — this time the 4th largest publishing group in the U.S, Hachette.  If you’ve been puzzled about the issues and who is lining up behind what, and why, this will clear it up.  Where Streitfeld doesn’t help in understanding the stakes is the lack of history — what the Amazon model has already wrought– and lack of reasoned forecasting — what are the fairly predictable outcomes of monopoly control (even if loose) of book publication and distribution.  As in many great shifts in social institutions there will be those who benefit and those who don’t

As the lead example in the article shows, some winners will be writers. The temptation being offered by Amazon — of higher royalties– seems like a good thing for all.  Enormity, however, has quite predictable dangers.  When writers are all bondsmen to one master the master will decide who to make and who to break.

Amazon, A Friendly Giant as long as It’s Fed

As for myself, I use these book distributors when ever possible


Since launching in November 1998, we’ve grown to become the Internet’s largest independently owned and operated marketplace. That’s more than ten years of doing the following:

  • Supporting thousands of independent sellers

ABEBooks (Whoops, I just read this is a subsidiary of Amazon. No more for me.)

Powell’s Everybody’s favorite Indie in Portland, OR.

City Lights The famous San Francisco store. Won’t have the wide reach of Alibris, but always worth stopping by.

Myanmar Sailing on the Tourist Dollar

“Myanmar has been rejuvenating from the impact of travel sanctions imposed by European countries three years ago and is emerging as a favored travel destination in Asia.

“According to the Ministry of Hotels and Tourism of Myanmar, tourism has become a major source of the country’s fiscal income and the country is expected to receive three million travelers in 2014.

“Before 2011, only fewer than 800,000 tourists visited Myanmar every year on average.


“Chinese visitors have accounted for a large proportion in the total number of foreign visitors to Myanmar. In many scenic spots and souvenir markets, signboards written in Chinese are seen everywhere. In the most famous Aung San souvenir market in Rangon, the number of visitors may top 100,000 and most of them are Chinese


All this emphasized by the glowing report in The Wealth Scene.

And those pesky Royhinga, rioting Buddhists?  The Kachin rebellion?  Keep on moving, nothing to see….

Burma rakhine-fire-water_2245212k