Friday, August 09, 2013

Te Aworo

Out for a well-earned and well-deserved vacation from the calamity that is life in New York City. See you in a week or so!

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) It looks like Pakistan has decided the rest of the world was getting too much attention.

2) Smokey Bear turns 69 today, which makes him one year older than the atomic bombing of Nagasaki.

3) Bryan Fischer's head to explode in 3….2….1….

4) First, they convicted Fabrice Tourre, a midlevel Goldman Sachs trader for a billion dollar Ponzi scheme. Now they've written a strongly worded note to Jamie Dimon at JP Morgan Chase. When will the brutes at the SEC stop beating up banksters????

5) For you science geeks out there…you know who you are…this weekend marks the Perseid meteor shower. It ought to be a golden dandy, since the moon will be practically new.

6) My hometown is a tough place to live and work, but the premise of this article, that you now have to be successful to live here, is bollocks. It doesn't hurt, to be sure, but if you're willing to fight for it, you can make a go of it here. It's like the song says, ♪ If I can make it there, I'll make it anywhere

7) Speaking of my hometown, I can't believe I'm going to miss this!

8) Anthony Weiner keeps shoving more body parts into his mouth. After successfully swallowing both feet, he seems to be shoving all three legs in there. And yet, he keeps trying. And failing. I have a theory, which is mine. Well, this theory that I have--that is to say, which is mine-- ...is mine. And the theory, which is mine, and belongs to me, is that Weiner is running as part of his couples therapy.

Stay with me for a moment on this. He entered the race for mayor knowing full well he had landmines and grenades laying about all over the place. And he's behaving bizarrely enough to warrant scrutiny by any passing cop. The boy ain't normal, is what I'm saying. But what if he underwent therapy to save his marriage to Huma Abedin, and in the course of that therapy, it came out that he still had the campaign bug, and big enough to really distract him from focusing on repairing his marriage?

Now a good therapist would have counseled him away from that kind of notion, no matter what modality their training took them. Sometimes, tho, particularly in B-Mod, you let the patient run a little out on the leash, like small dog sniffing a big dog's butt. He'll probably get smacked and high tail it back and then you'll be able to substitute in trying to be successful at something smaller, like his marriage.

So you, the therapist, leave him be to make his own mistakes, to yell publicly at his staff, to hand out cookies while smearing his opponents. He'll be back, and you can make another house payment.

9) Alex Rodriguez returns to the Bronx tonight for his first game back since the Commissioner suspended him for, well, forever. I would imagine there will be riot police standing by.  

10) Finally, dolphins beach all the time, altho not in such great numbers. So why not sharks, too? Indeed, the entire marine ecosystem seems to shifting north (or south, depending on your hemisphere) as manmade global warming devours our colder climates.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

The Adult In The Room

The interesting dynamic that is the relationship between Obama and Putin has a new twist, and it’s one we should welcome:

On Wednesday evening, when U.S. President Obama cancelled his upcoming visit to Moscow, the Russian reaction was perhaps most clear in the way that Vesti, the state’s main propaganda TV channel, conveyed it on the channel’s website. Buried about half way down on the page, underneath a story about Russian tourists in Turkey, Vesti announced: “The invitation for Obama stands.” Beside that was the somewhat diversionary headline: “Barack Obama will travel to St. Petersburg for the G20 summit.” The actual news — that Obama had decided not to meet with his Russian counterpart before, after or during the G20 summit in St. Petersburg next month — was clearly not something the official spin doctors wanted to advertise.

After a year spent honing their anti-American rhetoric — on issues ranging from the adoption of Russian children to missile defense in Europe and the civil war in Syria — the Kremlin message makers were suddenly eager to claim that President Vladimir Putin didn’t really mean for things to go this far. “Sure, Putin uses this rhetoric, but it’s not so much anti-American as anti-Euro-Atlantic,” says Evgeny Minchenko, a Kremlin-connected political strategist. “And keep in mind that he has tried to stop short of a head-on collision.”

So, shorter Kremlin: Holy fuck, he’s not that idiot Bushy BooshBoosh!

Indeed, he is not. And he’s not going to kowtow to the likes of a tin-plated moron who trades offices like a Southern governor.

Putin has played the US since at least 9-11, using our War on Terror as cover for all kinds of sins in Georgia and Chechnya, and let’s not forget the 130 Russians who died in a terorrist standoff in a Moscow theatre.

Yes, this is the guy Edward Snowden wants protecting him, but won’t give up secrets to. Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight.

Keep in mind that, as Bush pursued a unilateral American foreign policy with healthy servings of imperial aggression, without engagement or advisement from what could have been its strongest ally in fighting terrorists, Putin took both offense and advantage of Bush’s narrowed focus to become an active player in the Arab and Muslim world, particularly as the development of the Russian natural gas industry saw Russia become a major player in the energy field that previously had been dominated by the OPEC nations.

Putin began to develop ties to Venezuela, Syria, and North Korea, partly to further their own energy markets but also to assist them, it seems, in keeping America occupied. Our response?

To place a ballistic missile system in 2007 along the Polish border, nominally to protect against, errrr, Iranian and North Korean missiles.

This provocative move came a few short years after Bush removed us, again, unilaterally, from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaties in 2002.

While I cannot and will not defend Putin’s responses to any of these actions, in hindsight his motivation becomes clear: he saw a new Cold War starting up. I’m not sure that was an unjustified position to take.

So here comes Obama, tasked with both maintaining the fa├žade of those missiles being vital to American security, while having to defuse Russian imperial ambition and coax (or bully) them on board with regards to Syria and Iran, and possibly North Korea.

Is ignoring a summit opportunity the way to go? Keep in mind that both Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will still be meeting with their Russian counterparts as part of the G-20 Summit and that both Obama and Putin will have opportunities to communicate, possibly even privately, while in St. Petersburg. So it ain’t over yet. The message is sent. Let’s see how Russia responds. As indicated by the Time Magazine article, the signs are hopeful.

When Is A Human A Factory?

When you’re a poor black woman who died 50 years ago:

Henrietta Lacks was only 31 when she died of cervical cancer in 1951 in a Baltimore hospital. Not long before her death, doctors removed some of her tumor cells. They later discovered that the cells could thrive in a lab, a feat no human cells had achieved before.

Soon the cells, called HeLa cells, were being shipped from Baltimore around the world. In the 62 years since — twice as long as Ms. Lacks’s own life — her cells have been the subject of more than 74,000 studies, many of which have yielded profound insights into cell biology, vaccines, in vitro fertilization and cancer.

But Henrietta Lacks, who was poor, black and uneducated, never consented to her cells’ being studied. For 62 years, her family has been left out of the decision-making about that research. Now, over the past four months, the National Institutes of Health has come to an agreement with the Lacks family to grant them some control over how Henrietta Lacks’s genome is used.

[…]The agreement, which does not provide the family with the right to potential earnings from future research on Ms. Lacks’s genome, was prompted by two projects to sequence the genome of HeLa cells, the second of which was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

What benefit does the Lacks family gain from this? Privacy. After all, sequencing the genome would reveal nearly the entire family’s genetic history, and expose her descendants to identification when they obtain genetic tests for whatever reason.

For instance, Lacks died of cervical cancer clearly contracted from the HP virus. Not that anyone should be ashamed of this, but it’s not something that should be publicized unless the heirs agree to.

But think about this: HeLa cells were vital to the development of the polio vaccine (admittedly, not exactly a profit enterprise originally), in vitro fertilization, cloning and mapping the human genome, among other important – and profitable – medical advances. I think the Lacks’ family is entitled to some reparations for that, don’t you?

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

WaPo Drifts Down the Amazon

Well, Jeff Bezos, the creator of Amazon.com, has purchased the Washington Post:

The Washington Post Co. agreed Monday to sell its flagship newspaper to Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos, ending the Graham family’s stewardship of one of America’s leading news organizations after four generations.

Bezos, whose entrepreneurship has made him one of the world’s richest men, will pay $250 million in cash for The Post and affiliated publications to The Washington Post Co., which owns the newspaper and other businesses.

Seattle-based Amazon will have no role in the purchase; Bezos himself will buy the news organization and become its sole owner when the sale is completed, probably within 60 days. The Post Co. will get a new, still undecided name and continue as a publicly traded company without the newspaper.

The Post Co. will retain the building in Washington, as well as the online presence of subsidiary websites such as Slate.com and Foreign Policy magazine.

The newspaper business has had a rough time of it, adjusting to the online news presence of so many blogs, websites, and news outlets. Even the vaunted NY Times has had to eat crow and a billion dollars on what should have been a profitable endeavor, the purchase of the Boston Globe.

The Post made its own stupid decisions, most notably buying Newsweek magazine for a premium – which ironically was also sold over the weekend by IAC to IBT -- and a raft of television stations, none of which bolstered its flagging paper and only distracted resources and attention.

Bezos is generally acknowledged as a CEO’s CEO, one of the top two or three in the world. He also skews a little liberal (he’s a big supporter of Senator Patty Murray of Washington) which bodes well as a bulwark against the corporatocracy of Rupert Murdoch and other conservatives who own the “liberal” media. He’ll be keeping the paper privately owned, which means that he won’t be responsible to shareholders for quarterly earnings and may be able to build a media empire on this foundation.

If anyone can, it would be the guy who started the world’s largest bookstore.

Hm. Am I mistaken?

I thought guns made for a polite society?

 

Responsible gun ownership in action.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Exploitative Television

Normally, I look forward to this time of year. It’s Shark Week. If you don’t know or don’t care for it, Shark Week has some interesting programming about sharks, which is sadly interspersed with more and more exploitative programming.
They don’t just exploit sharks, they exploit you and me as well. Playing on our fears, reinforcing the worst about sharks, and drumming up crises where none existed before, all in the name of programming. They are the FOX News of popular science, and they suck about as badly.
Take last night, for instance. There was a “documentary” called “Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives,” which supposes that a extinct (by several million years) dinoshark called Megalodon still lives off the coast of South Africa. Done up in documentary style, along the lines of the equally egregious “Mermaids” on the sister network Animal Planet, Discovery essentially creates a fictional narrative and gussies it up with phony incidents and dubious experts in an attempt to attract viewers and…for what?
I watched a bit of it last night, and the more I watched, the angrier I got. Rather than talk about the megalodon as an abstract, rather than discuss its niche in the paleontological archives of history, or how it evolved into the modern day (and far less dangerous) shark, Discovery decided to go for grabbing you by the short hairs and twisting.
They ought to be ashamed. Discovery has long been a haven for science, featuring programming like “Mythbusters,” and yes, even Shark Week, which while it has long since become about scaring people out of the water again, and contributing to the wholesale slaughter of sharks, used to be about giving us knowledge and information about these mysterious and therefore terrifying creatures.
Sharks are beautiful animals and they have a place in the food chain that helps balance our ecology. Without sharks, our reefs would eventually die off. Sharks cull fish, keep population explosions in check, and otherwise help balance an environment that is rugged while beautiful. Nature is brutal, and the shark is about as perfectly descriptive of nature as any other apex predator, including man.
The difference is, we can do something about our brutalities. Sharks have a harder time. A lot of the behavior we interpret – anthropomorphise, to be frank – is just a shark’s way of exploring his environment. Sharks are highly intelligent creatures, with a brain-body mass comparable to humans, and that measure has long been a gauge of intelligence.
So why is Discovery Channel acting like an idiot?
If you are truly interested in sharks and their place in nature, watch SharkFest on NatGeo Wild. You won’t have to feel icky about yourself afterwards.