Thursday, September 30, 2021

An afternoon in London with Gareth and David

We did spend one afternoon up in London with Gareth, meeting with David (Gareth's son) for dinner. Interestingly it was Gareth's first trip into the city since the pandemic. But we had a great time.

 We ate at an amazing restaurant called "Gunpowder". It was fusion Indian at so very yummy.

The Lessons of "On Tyranny" #3

Chapter 3: Beware the one-party state

The parties that remade states and suppressed rivals were not omnipotent from the start. They exploited a historic moment to make political life impossible for their opponents. Vote in local and state elections while you can. Consider running for office.

The Trumpists (as opposed to the free old-school Republicans) are taking their party to crazy extremes where the control all the levers of power (legislature, governor and often State Supreme Courts) have made massive changes to their states, at Trumps bequest. Iowa, Georgia, Texas and Florida all reduced the polling places in minority areas prior to 2020 election.

Since the election, Georgia and Arizona have passed laws that let the legislature overrule the popular vote count. In Georgia, bipartisan election officials are being replaced by Republican operatives. 

However, this has been going on for a while and is not anything particularly new in the Republican party. And the ineffective, infantile response of the Democratic party is nothing new.

How badly are we doing? I’m thinking 2.5 out of 5 stars (5 stars being the worst).

Since Jan 1, 2021: ↔️ Unchanged. Except for those that think we are a one-party state where corporate interests trump all else, we are still a two party system. NOw it is just Trumpists versus everyone else.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

That's not a good look for USC

Well, that isn't a good look for USC. 

An Olympic Gold Medalist turned insurrectionist turned state's witness.

At least his USC Trojan swim cap still looks good.

Trojans.. phfft.

Foreign Elections you don't hear about

We in America are pretty unaware and uninterested in most foreign elections. We did watch England vote for Brexit, but that was because the parallels with Trump were front and center.

But in the past week two key elections occurred with two of our biggest allies, Japan and Germany. 

In Japan, the popular candidate won over the populace, but his candidacy was overruled by the sitting members of the Diet - the Japanese House of Representatives equivalent. A more boring leader was put in. As far as our bilateral relations go, this changes very little in our relationship or Japanese policies. Japan is the 3rd biggest economy in the world and our 2nd largest trading partner. We should be aware of what's happening.

In Germany, the world's 4 biggest economy and our 3rd biggest trading partner, held elections. The center-left party, the Social Democrats, beat the party of Angela Merkel. Angela retired before the vote, so this wasn't a referendum on her work (albeit, that might have driven a lot of votes). Since Angela drove many if not most, European Union policies, this is much more impactful on us, and the "Western" world in general.

After Trump abdicated the role of leader of the Capitalist nations, Angela's Germany stepped into that role. OUR future relations with Germany probably won't change that much. But Germany's actions in the European Union may change a lot.

And that is In The News for today. Schoolhouse Rock is next.

A Devastating Review of the Latest Bond

I love Daniel Craig as James Bond. He ups the Bond franchise with physicality and matches Sean Connery's Bond on finesse and sex appeal (no one can tough Connery on his sauvness).

But the first review I read, ouch! I must share a line.

Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga with all the enthusiasm of an adolescent eating a plateful of Brussels sprouts, No Time to Die (in theaters Oct. 8) is primarily notable for failing to stage a single rousing set piece. 

Our British visit to Penshurst Place

View from the gardens east of the house.

Ed, Jane and I stumbled on a magnificent castle / house about an hour south of London. It is call Penshurst place - which is just understated enough to be humble bragging.

You could tour the bottom floors and the garden. The same family line has lived in the house for 600 years and still live thee in the upper floors. Part of the way they manage to keep it despite high taxes is to open parts of it to the public AND to movies. Wolfe Hall and The Other Boleyn Girl were both filmed there.

The Great Hall, showing about 1/3 of the room.

The oldest part of the house is the Great Hall. This is the hall where feasts and festivals took place It was also at times, used for the staff (up to 100) would sleep!

The rest of the house was fairly normal for a castle. Queen's bedroom (with pictures of one Lord's two mistresses in it). Armory with all the ancient weapons arraigned tastefully.

But the gardens! Oh my. They were designed as a set of outdoor rooms. You can almost see the space for trysts and secret rendezvous. I give you different garden rooms.

Front Garden

This is the massive lawn garden from the House's portico (I am chock full of fancy words today!). It is the more formal and public part of the garden.

These are two of the many "lanes and hedges" that divide the garden rooms. Gorgeous. 

Finally a lot of the rooms, often with Ed, Jane or me in the picture.

The sun was in our eyes. We were not "confused" as one friend asked.

The lavender had already bloomed so you can't see the pattern, but the plants create the blue, white and red of the Union Jack!

Also, there are two topiaries in. the pictures below. They flank a small fountain. One if a bear, and the other is as (answer reveled AFTER the picture, try to guess.

This is obviously the Bear. It is on their family coat of arms.

This is the other animal on the coat of arms

To revel the answer highlight this sentence. It's a Porcupine!

The Lessons of "On Tyranny" #2

Chapter 2 – Defend Institutions

It is institutions that help us to preserve decency. They need our help as well. Do not speak of “our institutions” unless you make them yours by acting on their behalf. They fall one after the other unless each is defended in the beginning. So choose an institution you care about – a court, a newspaper, a law, a labor union – and take its side.

This is a huge problem for the United States and a huge change in "legislating". Trump changed the courts up and down the line. 

The 2016 - 2020  changes in the Supreme Court turned it from a trusted institution into a rubber stamp for many of his social policies. The Supreme Court has ruled, either publicly or more frequently on the Shadow Docket: to force Biden to return to Trump policies on Immigration, to end the eviction moratorium, to let a unConstitutional Abortion decision to go into effect, to prioritize Churches over Covid response (a reversal done after Amy Coney Barrett was appointed).

  • His sycophants in Congress changed the rules for Supreme Court appointments.
  • His emoluments case was drug out, then ruled obsolete.
  • His justice department fought legal subpoenas.
  • Anger at state Governors was punished by withholding funds, even disaster funding.
  • His illegal campaign contributes were ignored by the courts.
  • His illegal pressure on a foreign power for political gain was ruled not a big deal.

Yeah, our institutions are fucked and still genuflecting to Trump and his allies. Jan 6th insurgents are called “tourists” or “patriots” by Congress people. And political prisoners by others.

Trumpists were unable to control the news, but they were able to get almost half the population to disregard “fake news”, which was any news Trump didn’t like.

How badly are we doing? I’m thinking 5 out of 5 stars (5 stars being the worst).

Since Jan 1, 2021: ↔️ Unchanged. Democrats either don't have balls to effect a return to norms or, they are too stupid to do it. Neither one fills me with hope.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Ugly Architecture Awards in China

China is the canvas for some amazing architecture! It also is the canvas for a lot of Architecture Goes Wild moments. To avoid these, the government has called for an end of ugly and ostentatious buildings. And, now there is a Chinese vote on the "winners".  Here are some finalists.

A squat large tower in the shape of Russian Nesting Dolls

An odd (but I don't think ugly) sinuous roof on multiple buildings in Shanghai

A garish crosswalk above streets (may cause driver distraction)

This science museum is more odd than ugly

These giant statues anchor both ends of a pedestrian bridge.

Hard Rock Hotel or Christian Church?

The Lessons of "On Tyranny" #1 Updated

Update on bottom.
There is a great book called “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century”. I read it when it was published in 2017, when worries about Trump, Trumpism and Authoritarians were seen as over reactions.

Over the next few days, I think I will pull the titles of chapters of the book (the 20 Lessons) and look at how our country can be measured against those now. With special emphasis on changes since the 2016 election. I don't do this because I think our country is lost, but I fear we are losing it. This book tells how authoritarians start to come to power and I want to look at the US through this prism.

Chapter 1 – Do not obey in advance

Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do.
Remember in the beginning of his presidency how the adults were going to rein in the new President. That didn’t last long. Realists, understanding they were useless in the face of a sociopathic narcisist, left the government. They were replaced by sycophants that rarely needed to be told what to do. Remember the first cabinet meeting where Cabinet members effusively praised him and repeated lies. Overtime that because so normal, new members as well as current ones lined up to sing his praises.

Attorney General Bill Barr wasn’t told to lie about the Russian Report, but he did knowing it would keep him Trumps good graces. 

 People knew the quickest way to his heart, early on, was to lavishly praise him – regardless of the truth. After that, appearing on Fox News and repeating his talking points, without being asked, was the ey to getting things done.

After years of being dubbed enemies, people around him never questioned his love for Kim Jong Il or Vladimir Putin. Republicans lined up to praise the new normal, even going so far as to denigrate previous administrations that held fast against them.

A great example of this was the way Senator Lindsey Graham took to previewing Trump’s positions before they were even proposed. 

Just today (28 Sept) Sean Hannity is proposing that the US “charge people for citizenship”.

How badly are we doing? I’m thinking 3.5 out of 5 stars (5 stars being the worst).

Since Jan 1, 2021: ⤵️ So much worse. Trump has weaponized this with his followers. He has convinced them the election was stolen and they have to change the rules before it happens again

I am impressed

I am reading "The Magpie Murders", which is a great book. But, as I read, I realize that I am massively impressed by old school mysteries. You the kind: late night Murder in a big old house with 5 to 10 witnesses / suspects. Agatha Christie  was one of the greats at this. Ellery Queen was also amazing in his time.

There is less of this "who dun it" genre now than in the past. And, many of the current batch are set in the past (Magpie Murders does this as a book within a book). There are, I suppose, two good reasons for this - maybe three:

  1. Current "mysteries" are obsessed with the details and gore of the crime. A lot don't have suspects to be outwitted, but forensic analysis of blood, gruesome murder details. Older mysteries focus on the people and opportunities, not the criminal act.
  2. Mysteries set before the internet and cell phones rely on personal interactions, forcing writers to explore motives and opportunities. As opposed to current "thriller mysteries" where a know hero catches some serial killer with details of their murder processes.
  3. Real life murders are not uniquely rare occurrences. It is hard to suspend real life and lose yourself in a story only to read about something that happens all the time.
That's it. That is why older Mysteries, both books and movies, are more fun to watch and to lose yourself in.

A Great Book and pretty good movie circa 1935

Even Sue Grafton's amazing series of crimes A to Z were started before the Internet revolution, and have all been set there in 1980s Santa Barbara.

Cassowary "Domestication" occurred almost 20,000 years ago.

This article uses data from New Guinea to propose that Cassowaries, the killer birds of Australasia, were domesticated 18,000 years ago. For comparison, chickens were domesticated 9,000 years ago.

Now "domesticated' may or may not be the right word. But since Cassowary chicks (cassolettes?) imprint on the first thing they see. And from ancient settlement sites, they found a ton of late stage Cassowary eggs. Researchers believe that New Guineans waited until the chick were almost ready to hatch, then they killed the male Cassowary (who incubates the eggs and doesn't eat for months) - who gets quite weak. They presumably ate the full grown male, then took the eggs.

Cassowary chicks imprint on the first thing they see. So they would imprint on the people, who raised them for meat, feathers, bones and more chicks. It is impressive since these are killer birds with their feet . claws. One killed a man in Florida (!) in 2019.

The killer Cassowary foot (a little dinosaur-ish right?)


Monday, September 27, 2021

And there is the CamperVan

 The Camper Van's name is Bella. Gareth and Barbara got it during the pandemic and quite enjoying using it. It is cure, and plenty of room with the popup up.

Gareth, Barbara and me, with Bella the CamperVan

Jane's Garden

 It is September in England - okay it's September everywhere, but this particular discussion requires you to understand it is England.

September is beginning to go into Fall in earnest. And so many gardens are beginning to die off. We haver seen Jane's for the first time in 2 years. It looks glorious.

Her garden from upstairs. The small building is her sewing room.

Looking from the garden back to her house.

Jane and me in the garden / back yard

A problem we cannot ignore

Immigration, a politic football, is - in actuality - a crisis that needs to be solved or have at least have a plan to respond to the crisis. Immediately. It will only get worse. There are a lot of immigrants - a millions more soon to come - that are products of: climate change, destructive national policies because of climate change, and victim of displacement by wars - over scarce resources and habitable land.

Not Really the CAUSE of the Problem

Earlier immigrants were attracted by jobs and opportunities. And often they were welcomed, as job creators or skilled labour. Welcomed along with our dependence on undocumented as cheap labour in farms and the slaughter business. But these new immigrants are driven by completely different factors.

Take the current huge numbers of Haitian refugees. Let us forget - for a moment - our tragic handling of these immigrants. And look at why they are coming. 

One reason is the earthquake. But an even greater problem is the near yearly devastation caused by hurricanes. Hurricanes which are increasing in numbers and strength due to climate change. The combination of a horrible infrastructure, political incompetence and world wide apathy contributed to the severity of the exodus, but not the exodus itself.

Therefore, in addition to opportunity for advancement, the United States is seen as a reasonably safe haven against climate change. Or country will be, (and is) being affected by Climate Change, but the combination of wealth, location and a responding politic (albeit slowly) draws immigrants.

Hughenden Manor

One of. our first days in Merry Ole, Jane, Gareth, Barbara, Ed and I traveled to Hughenden Manor. IT was quite old and ultimately passed to Prime Minister, Issac D'Israeli.

The house and the grounds are lovely, open to the public via the National Trust system. Which is a set of national owned lands, Manors and Gardens, deeded to the Public. Kind of like the State Parks in the United States.

The inside was fairly interesting for the house. But they had a World War II exhibition that was very cool. During the War, the house was taken over for the War effort. IN particular, here is where the maps were created for the RAF bombing of Germany. I didn't get pictures, but the story was fascinating.

We did spend a lot of time talking with Barbara and Gareth, since we hadn't seen them of Jane in almost 2 years. It was quite fun.

About sums it up