Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Landslip Collaroy, Aug. 19, 2014

Heavy rains for days led to a bit of a cave-in yesterday at an already sketchy building site at the end of our street. Took out part of a unit block's driveway.

Pics and video from the this morning, August 20, showing the backfill process beginning (video does not play sideways):



The crater you see here is the building site. The slide or slip damage you can see in the back, the dark slabs with the white marks on them being bits of tarmac from the driveway that collapsed. Very close to that building.



From yesterday, this is the left-hand-side of the crater, just to give you an idea of how close this building site is to existing structures. They were trying to tuck a nine-unit apartment building between this home you see here (reportedly a historic site; more info here) and that apartment block on the right you can see in the other photo. Oy.


Here's a good short Instagram video, taken from above the site, of the excavation, with a gratuitious show of the view from up here of the Tasman Sea (which we don't have in our peasant's abode on the street below, no thank you very much).

Super Bonus:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Screenplay: The Texas Brainsaw Massacre


My next movie will be built around these four paragraphs:

According to a ruling last week by the Texas Eighth District Court of Appeals, Michael McIntyre and Laura McIntyre removed their nine children from a private school in 2004 to homeschool them.
Michael McIntyre’s twin brother, Tracy, testified that the parents used empty space in a motorcycle dealership that he co-owned as a classroom. But Tracy said that he never saw the children reading books, using computers or doing arithmetic. Instead, the children were seen playing instruments and singing.
“Tracy overhead one of the McIntyre children tell a cousin that they did not need to do schoolwork because they were going to be raptured,” the court document noted.
After Tracy confronted the parents about the curriculum, the school was later moved to a rental house.

Never mind the similarities to the Harry Potter story, this will be 100% original. I've got the whole thing worked out in my head, right down to Cate Blanchett's pigtail length.

Cate—and Steve Buscemi—please clear your calendars.

Photo

Monday, July 21, 2014

RIP, James Garner

Had to rummage through some old files to find this, a "Rockford Files"-inspired excerpt from an old, unfinished story, "Ransom Harry." "The Rockford Files" remains one of my 1970s teenage touchstones, and Jim Rockford was as good a TV hero/role model for a dumbass kid from Buffalo as they come.

RIP, James Garner, thanks for the memories.


*** ***

Excerpt, "Ransom Harry"


"Aw, I don't know, Harry boy, it's sounds awful fishy to me. And I'm trying to get outta this business, have been for years."

Jim looked at Harry. Harry looked helpless, defeated.

"Aw jeez," said Jim. "You say that someone has kidnapped your happiness? How did they do that? Did you leave a window open or something? And how do you know it's your happiness? Did they send you an ear or anything? It might just be a big mix-up."

Harry showed him the ear.

"Oh jeez, that's awful, Harry, that's—get that thing away from me."

A slightly bewildered, elderly gray-haired gentleman hobbled up into the trailer.

"Oh! I'm sorry Jimmy-boy, I didn't know you had company. I'll just go out here and do something else."

"No, no, Dad, come on in. I was just talking to an old friend of mine. Dad, like you to meet Harry, Harry Jenkins, old army buddy. Harry, this is Rocky."

"Yes, I know," said Harry.

"You know?" said Jim. "You know my Dad?"

"I ain't ever seen him before in my life!" said Rocky.

"You must have," said Harry, "I've known you since I was a kid. And Angel, too. Is Angel coming over?"

"Angel!?' said Jim, jumping to his feet. "You know Angel? Oh jeez, now we're really in trouble."

"Trouble?' said Rocky, "What trouble? You're not getting my boy mixed up in any trouble! He's already had enough trouble for ten people!"

Harry looked grief stricken. "I didn't know who else to turn to, Jim" he said, "I'm desperate."

Jim let out a heavy sigh, gripped the back of his chair, grimaced, swiveled his eyes to Rocky.

"His happiness has been kidnapped, Dad," he said gravely.

"His happiness? Kidnapped? I ain't never heard'a such a thing!"

Rocky took off his cap and scratched his head.

"Well, I guess there ain't nothin to do 'cept get in the truck and the Firebird and go on down to a warehouse or somethin'. You ready, Jimmy-boy?"

"No Dad, you can't go. You stay here and I'll take care of this. Should just take a little while."

 "That's what you always say! And I always end up going anyhow! Just don't get me killed—I got two years left on this contract, then I got a made-for-TV with CBS!"

The gold Firebird spun its wheels, the old truck bounced and rattled, and soon…a warehouse. A long black limousine in the parking lot. A tall swarthy man with greasy black hair got out of the limousine.

"Okay Rockford, this is it. And your old man too," said the tall swarthy man in a swarthy voice. A barrage of gunfire, a hail of bullets, and a swarm of lead all broke out at once. Jim and Rocky lay in pools of blood on the pavement. Harry stood blinking in the sun, unhurt.

"You bastard, Garner," mumbled Rocky, still face down in a pool of blood.

The credits started to roll. Harry heard theme music. The tall swarthy man walked up to him.

"Who the hell are you?" asked the tall swarthy man.

"I'm Harry," he said. "The guy whose happiness you kidnapped! What have you done with her?!"

"Harry?" said the tall swarthy man. "Happiness? Kidnapped? Her? What the hell are you talking about? You can't kidnap happiness. It's not a thing. Whattaya stupid?"

The tall swarthy man slapped Harry in the face, got in the limousine, and the car drove off.

Harry heard a telephone. He turned around. Right behind him, in the middle of the parking lot, next to the warehouse, was Kate Jackson. She had a telephone in her hand.

"It's for you," she said to Harry, raising an eyebow and smiling a small, knowing smile.

Harry smiled, weirdly, at Kate Jackson, and took the phone.

"Hello?" said Harry.

"Good job, Harry-boy! Good show, too! I always did love 'The Rockford Files.' Too bad Angel didn't show up. He was always my favorite!"

Saturday, July 19, 2014

White House: No "Democratic Process" For U.S. Citizens On Intelligence Policy

A new NSA domestic spying piece just came out today. I got it via Marcy Wheeler, who runs the great blog Emptywheel. Her tweet:
The piece was written by John Napier Tye, a former State Department employee. Please see Emptywheel for a deeper discussion on this - I just wanted to point to something Tye says right off the bat:
In March I received a call from the White House counsel’s office regarding a speech I had prepared for my boss at the State Department. The speech was about the impact that the disclosure of National Security Agency surveillance practices would have on U.S. Internet freedom policies. The draft stated that “if U.S. citizens disagree with congressional and executive branch determinations about the proper scope of signals intelligence activities, they have the opportunity to change the policy through our democratic process.”  
But the White House counsel’s office told me that no, that wasn’t true. I was instructed to amend the line, making a general reference to “our laws and policies,” rather than our intelligence practices. I did. 
Even after all the reforms President Obama has announced, some intelligence practices remain so secret, even from members of Congress, that there is no opportunity for our democracy to change them.
The White House counsel's office "instructed" a State Department speechwriter to not say that U.S. citizens have the opportunity to change U.S. government policy through the democratic process. Because "it wasn't true."

I know I'm a plain old dummy U.S. citizen - but what the f*ck?

Note: I get that much in the intelligence world must by necessity be out of wide public view, but that does not mean intelligence oversight by democratically elected officials cannot take place. My old senator, Ron Wyden, among others, has been trying to hammer this point home for ages. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

'When We're in Love We're Alone" rough draft

I was goofing around with my guitar while talking with Christine this morning and a sweet little Van Morrison-ish progression jumped out. After we finished talking I snapped on Photo Booth on the computer and made a video so I wouldn't lose the progression, and ad-libbed some words. Chorus sorta sounds like "When we're in love we're alone." Hm. May become a song.

 Dear YouTube: why is every video I take from PhotoBooth out of sync? I hate you.

 

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Case Moth Caterpiller!

I've written about these fascinating creatures before.

See that longish, sticky-looking package thing, in the center of the photo? Look closely: there's a caterpillar sticking out of the left-side end of it:



As I said at the link:

I've just looked it up, and I quickly found a remarkably similar photo—even down to the way those outer sticks are configured: it's the cocoon (empty, pretty sure [not this time!]) of the caterpillar of a case moth, the Saunders' Case MothMetura elongatus. Oh, you have to go here, too. And holy crap, here, too. (I've just realized, this is related to the "Walking Turd" from December, but a different species, clearly.)

We've watched this guy (gal?) build that case, ever so slowly, while living on and among one plant—a grevillia—on our veranda. Every night—and sometimes, but only rarely, during daylight hours, as happened here for these photos Christine took—he comes out and walks around, dragging his case with him (he never leaves it), munching away on the leaves of the poor grevillia.


Here's a short close-up video of him/her eating, and the stick-cocoon that we've watched him build for several months now:

video


Here's a drawing showing the different life stages of our friend, and a similar creature. Description, from the already-linked Museum Victoria:
A zoological illustration of the Saunders' Case Moth, Metura elongatus, and the Faggot Case Moth, Clania ignobilis, by Arthur Bartholemew.


One day our friend here will close up shop, hunker down, and become a moth, like the one on the right in the image above, pretty sure. This is just sad—he's been a very good companion these several months. But not for him, or her, I suppose. If it's a she, she will stay in her cocoon; if it's a he, he will emerge—and fly off to find a female waiting in her cocoon for a male to come along.

Pics! 


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Michael Kinsley's Mixed-Up Response to Margaret Sullivan

Longtime American political commentator Michael Kinsley was asked to write a review for the New York Times Book Review of "No Place to Hide," former Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald's book on NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, and the NSA itself.

The review has been widely panned, primarily because it made the shocking argument that when it comes to matters of who should decide whether or not a news organization should publish classified government secrets - the government should get the final call.
The question is who decides. It seems clear, at least to me, that the private companies that own newspapers, and their employees, should not have the final say over the release of government secrets, and a free pass to make them public with no legal consequences. In a democracy (which, pace Greenwald, we still are), that decision must ultimately be made by the government.
Why that is shocking and wrong isn't rocket science: Kinsley is arguing that President Richard Nixon ("the government" in Kinsley's equation) should have had the final say on whether or not the Washington Post (one of those privately owned "newspapers") should have been able to expose the Watergate scandal. (And the Nixon administration tried to have that final say, too: look at John Mitchell's "big fat wringer" remark here.) It is a shocking, absurd argument, made all the more shocking and absurd because it's being made by a journalist, and in the New York Times, a paper that has numerous times over the course of its very long existence published classified documents - against the will of the government - thereby exposing truckloads of government wrongdoing.

The paper's public editor, Margaret Sullivan, after having gotten an earful from readers, critiqued Kinsley's review, pointing out especially the wrong spoken to above, and Kinsley has now responded to that, in an even more absurd fashion. Sullivan said this:
After the review was published online last week, many commenters and readers (and Mr. Greenwald himself) attacked the review, which was not only negative about the book but [Kinsley] also expressed a belief that many journalists find appalling: that news organizations should simply defer to the government when it comes to deciding what the public has a right to know about its secret activities.
Kinsley responds right off the bat to the "should simply defer":
In her scolding of me and The New York Times Book Review for a review critical of Glenn Greenwald’s “No Place to Hide,” Margaret Sullivan writes that I believe “that news organizations should simply defer to the government” on the issue of making secret documents public. I guess I wasn’t clear (though I don’t know how I could have been clearer). The government sometimes has legitimate reasons for needing secrecy but “will usually be overprotective” so the process of decision “should openly tilt in favor of publication with minimal delay.” Does that sound like I’m saying that news organizations “should simply defer”?
Pay attention to what Kinsley has done here. He has basically said:

• I didn't say news organizations should defer to government—I said government should tilt toward publication.

That's a bit like saying, "I didn't say women should defer to rapists - I'm saying rapists should tilt toward not raping."

Kinsley still has the government making the decision. He still thinks "that decision must ultimately be made by the government." Kinsley's mocking (sneering!) tone might make you think so, but he hasn't in any way refuted Sullivan's charge, since it of course follows that news organizations would have to defer to government if the government made the decision Kinsley granted them against publication of whatever secrets were being argued about.

Government does not—ever—"tilt toward the publication" of government secrets that make government look bad. Kinsley is making a patently absurd argument, one that turns the 1st Amendment on its head, and it deserved the strong rebuke Sullivan, in her position as public editor, gave it.

Kinsley adds a straw man to the mix, as well:
Do the people on the other side of this argument believe that the government never has a legitimate need for secrecy? (Standard example: the time and location of the D-Day invasion.) 
I honestly cannot tell if Kinsley is just mixed up or being insultingly dishonest here. Arguing for the right of American news organizations to do what they have done since the U.S. was founded—publish government secrets that expose government wrongdoing without interference from the government—is not arguing "that the government never has a legitimate need for secrecy." That's either a deliberate disingenuous and innuendo-laden straw man, or Kinsley is simply unable to be coherent on this subject. I almost hope for the former, as one can at least fight that. The latter is just sad.

P.S. Kinsley's "the private companies that own newspapers" remarks is just weird. I suppose he'd be okay with government-owned newspapers making publishing decisions?

Update: Let's note for the record that Kinsley's argument is about government secrets already in the possession of a news organization or organizations—otherwise there would be no argument over who gets publication decision. (A newspaper can't argue to publish secrets it doesn't have.) Slipped into Kinsley's argument is the implication that we're talking about all government secrets, including ones no news organization has or had, or threatens or threatened to publish—such as "the time and location of the D-Day invasion," or similar. This is, again, an insulting and innuendo-laden straw man.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Response to Sir David Omand

David Omand is a former director of the UK's GCHQ—British equivalent to the U.S.'s NSA—and the other day he wrote an opinion piece that was published in Prospect Magazine, about the debate that arose via the leaks by Edward Snowden of massive amounts of data from the NSA.

Basically: Omand argues that people are exaggerating, wrongly implying that we're in some sort of Orweillian total-surveillance state, when nothing of the sort is actually true, and that this exaggeration hurts the reasonable debate we should be having, the "reasonable debate" we should be having amounting to, if I'm reading it right—"Shut up with the questions about surveillance already!" (Please read the piece if you're interested in the subject.)

Little ol' me left a comment there, but it has not, for some reason, been published. (Update, May 3: it has now been published.)  So I am posting it here, with a few rewrites and additions. For what it's worth.

* * *

David Omand ignores some fundamental truths. (This is coming from an American perspective, and is mostly about the NSA, but, as Omand speaks to both the GCHQ and the NSA, I think this applies.)

1. BROKEN OVERSIGHT: Omand acknowledges the need for vigorous oversight – “not least from the intrusion into privacy that it can involve” – but doesn’t speak at all to the fact that Edward Snowden’s leaks, as well as subsequent releases since, have shown that oversight is broken in significant ways, as the NSA simply lied to its main overseer, the FISA court, on numerous occasions, and/or lied to, simply didn’t tell, or hamstrung intelligence committees about what it was doing.

2. HISTORY OF DOMESTIC SURVEILLANCE: Omand says there is no “monitoring scandal to uncover,” and acts as if even bringing the subject up is preposterous. This ignores that this exact agency, the NSA has a very ugly history of spying on its own citizens (pdf), a history uncovered in the 1970s that constitutes a “monitoring scandal” of epic proportions. And let’s not pretend the 1960s and 1970s were the Dark Ages. It wasn’t that long ago. And let’s also not pretend that the fixes that came from that ugly and illegal activity being uncovered prevent any chance of it happening again. This is eactly what today’s broken oversight is about.

3. SURVEILLANCE ABILITIES: The ability to carry out domestic surveillance has grown enormously since just the 1970s – and they were able to do a hell of a job of it then. (Bringing up the mind-reading thing – too silly for a response. Tell it to the Church Committee.)

Put just these three things together – the present broken or just very damaged state of oversight, the history of very ugly domestic spying activity, and the ability to carry out even more widespread and deeper surveillance today – and Omand’s mocking/scolding of people for bringing up the subject of mass surveillance, or a monitoring scandal, comes off a little like someone saying, “Oh come on – Nixon wouldn’t do that! Stop with the conspiracy theories!” – in mid-1973 or so. (Given that it’s David Omand, former directore of the GCHQ – it comes off as a bit more than that.)

P.S. We haven't heard the last of NSA/GCHQ scandals, so it may still be early for Omand to make this call in the first place. (And please do read the pdf - it's fascinating stuff.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sliver Moon, Pus Sun, Motif [photograph]


If you look very closely on the cotton disc on the right, you can see the tiny sliver, like a tiny moon of the sun of the pus.

Collaroy, April 29, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The space between the stove and the cupboard

I was just making a tuna sandwich, straight from the can onto the bread, and talking with Christine, when a big oily chunk of tuna fell into that dark, narrow space between the stove and the cupboard. That space.

Dang it.

As I bent down and carefully reached my fingers into that narrow space and picked up the chunk, I felt Christine stop. I mean I felt Christine's being jerk to a stop. I wasn't looking in her direction, but I could feel a kind of frozen, prickly silence emanating from her.

I picked up the oily chunk, and turned and dropped it into the trash can. Christine immediately became a non-frozen person again, and said, "OH MY GOD I THOUGHT YOU WERE GOING TO EAT THAT!"

Christine knows her husband.

The dark space between the stove and the cupboard - it's too narrow for regular broom visits, and gets neglected - who wants to pull out the stove all the time to clean in there? - so with time it gets a serious kind of fetidly dirty. Eating food off the floor? Oh of course. All the time. I'm clumsy. But out of that space? No. Well maybe on the odd day, but not today.

But here's what I came to talk to you about today: There is a place in your head like the space between the stove and the cupboard. It is a dark place, a narrow place, a long neglected place, a fetid place. When you drop a chunk of oily tuna in that place in your head, and you bend down and pick it up, and you eat it—that's how songs are made.