Wednesday, October 17, 2018

This is a TEST

I was just telling somebody the other day that I've been seriously thinking about writing a piece for publication as a book-length thing. Really. And I remember also telling somebody--another somebody--that it was right now something like just an "unfocused rant." Then it occured to me that I had already established a pretty solid background in just this very area with "Powderfinger." Which already exists and which could live again if I just decided to breathe some life into it. So, once again (for this is not the first time), I'm considering revitalizing my blog. I have this urge to "let things out." And truth be told, I probably need the kind of discipline that working a regular blog imposes upon me. I just have to refrain from beating myself up over self-imposed requirements. Which after all, can be altered at will.

So let me give old "Powderfinger" a whirl once again. I'm telling myself I might succeed or I might fail, which is why I don't intend to tell anybody but Susan that I've restarted this blog until I've got some stuff that people might be interested in reading. That day might never come, but I'm hoping it will. Because then that'll mean I'm writing regularly again.

I should notice that I'm working now, almost 4 years from the time I stopped posting to "Powderfinger" regularly with an entirely different interface. Doubtless it will take a while to figure out. One thing I can say now is it appears to be more intuitive and less of a hassle to deal with. But the blog doesn't look like it did before. The site needs a thorough editing and spruce-up which I'll do if it looks like this thing might fly again.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Small Cheer

I've gotten another editing job from my friends at Savas-Beattie. It's either rain or shine. They have not sent me any work for several months, and just now, when I've undertaken to catch up on some older stuff, here come this new job. Not that I'm complaining.

We had a great visit with an old, dear friend and his wife yesterday. George Rable--look him up on Google; he's published a bunch--my bud from graduate school, recently retired from an endowed chair in the U of Alabama history department. Quick visit. He and Kay are on an extended driving tour of several points west. But it was great to see them and catch up on a lot of news about my other historian friends. The bridge game was fun too.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Oh No! Not Again!

Oh, yes, reader, I'm afraid so. It's been about two years since I last posted anything here. I really have no good excuse to explain the silence other than my utterly destructive tendency to obsess about something or other. And in the case of Powderfinger, it was the pressure I put on myself to write all the time, not miss a day. The blog became more of a chore than a pleasure when it became yet another "must do" in my life. (So two years further along, I'm a little wiser. I'm not going to do that to myself again. Which means I'll post here whenever I please. Just trust that my few faithful followers will once again join me.)

In the meantime, of course, the dying empire has continued to do so. Since I was last here the masses of the country (modified of course by the electoral college) have seen fit to install so imbecilic a president at the head of our affairs that he makes my old friend "W" look like a genius. Rest assured I will have plenty to say on this subject in future posts.

At the moment, I have to go vacuum the rugs and make a bed. My old and close friend from grad school, George Rable and his wife Kay are going to spend the day and night with us tomorrow and things have to be tidy. I'll be seeing y'all again soon.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

It's Enough to Make You Resume Blogging

"Heroes" on Parade
My brother-in-law sent me this article. He said he thought I might "appreciate" it. Well, hell, yeah. I appreciate his pointing me to this, and I appreciate the article like a rampant case of jock itch. Like many other nefarious things going on, I had no idea. This is a miserable piece of news.

It turns out that our so-called "defense" department is paying out millions of dollars to NFL teams to have them honor the troops with salutes and various other displays at games. Fourteen teams and $5.4 million from 2010-14, to be precise. Now I know there are many more millions than that in this country that won't see a thing wrong with this idea. There's more the pity. Only dangerous radicals have problems with this kind of mass manipulation. People like me.

This is, my friends, exactly what national socialism and other brands of totalitarianism is about. This is what they do. Manufacture patriotism and brandish its symbols and slogans on any occasion and in any venue where it can reach thousands, nay, millions of spectators. Think military parades, military ads. military events like air shows, military open houses at bases and on ships, military aircraft flying over stadiums, military getting on planes first, being cheered in airports, etc., etc. All this, and they use your money to do it with. Your taxes are paying for these phony displays. Yes, in the NFL case this is five and a half million bucks that could be used for oh, fixing a school or a bridge or a highway. Or providing food to some American family down on its luck or . . . well, you get the idea. This is an outrage. This is a crime. This is thievery from the American taxpayer. That's what I think of it.But don't forget, I'll be among the first to be swept up when they send the heroes out armed to the teeth to purify American society.

(More than coincidental, I think, that my last blog post, way back in early January, was on this same theme.)

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Soldier Worship

I totally agree with this piece from Salon by David Masciotra:

Put a man in uniform, preferably a white man, give him a gun, and Americans will worship him. It is a particularly childish trait, of a childlike culture, that insists on anointing all active military members and police officers as “heroes.” The rhetorical sloppiness and intellectual shallowness of affixing such a reverent label to everyone in the military or law enforcement betrays a frightening cultural streak of nationalism, chauvinism, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, but it also makes honest and serious conversations necessary for the maintenance and enhancement of a fragile democracy nearly impossible.

It has become impossible to go a week without reading a story about police brutality, abuse of power and misuse of authority. Michael Brown’s murder represents the tip of a body pile, and in just the past month, several videos have emerged of police assaulting people, including pregnant women, for reasons justifiable only to the insane.

It is equally challenging for anyone reasonable, and not drowning in the syrup of patriotic sentimentality, to stop saluting, and look at the servicemen of the American military with criticism and skepticism. There is a sexual assault epidemic in the military. In 2003, a Department of Defense study found that one-third of women seeking medical care in the VA system reported experiencing rape or sexual violence while in the military. Internal and external studies demonstrate that since the official study, numbers of sexual assaults within the military have only increased, especially with male victims. According to the Pentagon, 38 men are sexually assaulted every single day in the U.S. military. Given that rape and sexual assault are, traditionally, the most underreported crimes, the horrific statistics likely fail to capture the reality of the sexual dungeon that has become the United States military.

Chelsea Manning, now serving time in prison as a whistle-blower, uncovered multiple incidents of fellow soldiers laughing as they murdered civilians. Keith Gentry, a former Navy man, wrote that when he and his division were bored they preferred passing the time with the “entertainment” of YouTube videos capturing air raids of Iraq and Afghanistan, often making jokes and mocking the victims of American violence. If the murder of civilians, the rape of “brothers and sisters” on base, and the relegation of death and torture of strangers as fodder for amusement qualifies as heroism, the world needs better villains.
It is undeniable that there are police officers who heroically uphold their motto and mission to “serve and protect,” just as it is indisputable that there are members of the military who valiantly sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. Reviewing the research proving cruelty and mendacity within law enforcement and the military, and reading the stories of trauma and tragedy caused by officers and soldiers, does not mean that no cop or troop qualifies as a hero, but it certainly means that many of them are not heroes.
Acknowledging the spread of sadism across the ranks of military also does not mean that the U.S. government should neglect veterans, as they often do, by cutting their healthcare options, delaying or denying treatment, and reducing psychiatric services. On the contrary, if American politicians and pundits genuinely believed that American military members are “heroes,” they would not settle for sloganeering, and garish tributes. They would insist that veterans receive the best healthcare possible. Improving and universalizing high quality healthcare for all Americans, including veterans, is a much better and truer way to honor the risks soldiers and Marines accept on orders than unofficially imposing a juvenile and dictatorial rule over speech in which anything less than absolute and awed adulation for all things military is treasonous.
One of the reasons that the American public so eagerly and excitedly complies with the cultural code of lionizing every soldier and cop is because of the physical risk-taking and bravery many of them display on the foreign battleground and the American street. Physical strength and courage is only useful and laudable when invested in a cause that is noble and moral. The causes of American foreign policy, especially at the present, rarely qualify for either compliment. The “troops are heroes” boosters of American life typically toss out clichés to defend their generalization – “They defend our freedom,” “They fight so we don’t have to.”
No American freedom is currently at stake in Afghanistan. It is impossible to imagine an argument to the contrary, just as the war in Iraq was clearly fought for the interests of empire, the profits of defense contractors, and the edification of neoconservative theorists. It had nothing to do with the safety or freedom of the American people. The last time the U.S. military deployed to fight for the protection of American life was in World War II – an inconvenient fact that reduces clichés about “thanking a soldier” for free speech to rubble. If a soldier deserves gratitude, so does the litigator who argued key First Amendment cases in court, the legislators who voted for the protection of free speech, and thousands of external agitators who rallied for more speech rights, less censorship and broader access to media.
Wars that are not heroic have no real heroes, except for the people who oppose those wars. Far from being the heroes of recent wars, American troops are among their victims. No rational person can blame the soldier, the Marine, the airman, or the Navy man for the stupid and destructive foreign policy of the U.S. government, but calling them “heroes,” and settling for nothing less, makes honest and critical conversations about American foreign policy less likely to happen. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make much sense to call their mission unnecessary and unjust. It also makes conversations about the sexual assault epidemic, or the killing of innocent civilians, impossible. If all troops are heroes, it doesn’t make any sense to acknowledge that some are rapists and sadists.
The same principle of clear-eyed scrutiny applies to law enforcement agencies. Police departments everywhere need extensive investigation of their training methods, qualifications for getting on the job, and psychological evaluation. None of that will happen as long as the culture calls cops heroes, regardless of their behavior.
An understandable reason for calling all troops heroes, even on the left, is to honor the sacrifice they make after they die or endure a life-altering injury in one of America’s foolish acts of aggression. A more helpful and productive act of citizenship, and sign of solidarity with the military, is the enlistment in an antiwar movement that would prevent the government from using its volunteer Army as a plaything for the financial advancement and political cover of the state-corporate nexus and the military-industrial complex of Dwight Eishenhower’s nightmares.
Given the dubious and dangerous nature of American foreign policy, and the neglect and abuse veterans often suffer when returning home wounded or traumatized, Americans, especially those who oppose war, should do everything they can to discourage young, poor and working-class men and women from joining the military. Part of the campaign against enlistment requires removing the glory of the “hero” label from those who do enlist. Stanley Hauerwas, a professor of divinity studies at Duke whom Time called “America’s best theologian,” has suggested that, given the radical pacifism of Jesus Christ, American churches should do all they can to discourage its young congregants from joining the military. Haurwas’ brand of intellectual courage is necessary, even among non-Christians, to combat the hysterical sycophancy toward the military in a culture where even saluting a Marine, while holding a coffee cup, is tantamount to terrorism.
The men and women who do enlist deserve better than to die in the dirt and come home in a bag, or spend their lives in wheelchairs, and their parents should not have to drown in tears and suffer the heartbreak of burying their children. The catastrophes become less common when fewer people join the military.

Calling all cops and troops heroes insults those who actually are heroic – the soldier who runs into the line of fire to protect his division, the police officer who works tirelessly to find a missing child – by placing them alongside the cops who shoot unarmed teenagers who have their hands in the air, or the soldier who rapes his subordinate.

It also degrades the collective understanding of heroism to the fantasies of high-budget, cheap-story action movies. The American conception of heroism seems inextricably linked to violence; not yet graduated from third-grade games of cops and robbers. Explosions and smoking guns might make for entertaining television, but they are not necessary, and more and more in modern society, not even helpful in determining what makes a hero.

A social worker who commits to the care and advocacy of adults with developmental disabilities – helping them find employment, group home placement and medical care, and just treating them with love and kindness – is a hero. A hospice worker in a poor neighborhood, providing precious comfort and consolation to someone dying on the ugly edges of American healthcare, is a hero. An inner-city teacher, working hard to give essential education and meaningful affirmation to children living in neighborhoods where bullets fly and families fall apart, is a hero.

Not all teachers, hospice workers or social workers are heroes, but emphasizing the heroism of those who do commit to their clients, patients and students with love and service would cause a shift of America’s fundamental values. It would place the spotlight on tender and selfless acts of solidarity and empathy for the poor. Calling all cops heroes too often leads to pathetic deference to authority, even when the results are fatal, and insisting all members of the military are heroes too often reinforces the American values of militarism and exceptionalism.

The assignment of heroism, exactly like the literary construct, might have more to do with the assignment of villainy than the actual honoring of “heroes.” Every hero needs a villain. If the only heroes are armed men fighting the country’s wars on drugs and wars in the Middle East, America’s only villains are criminals and terrorists. If servants of the poor, sick and oppressed are the heroes, then the villains are those who oppress, profit from inequality and poverty, and neglect the sick. If that is the real battle of heroism versus villainy, everyone is implicated, and everyone has a far greater role than repeating slogans, tying ribbons and placing stickers on bumpers.
David Masciotra is the author of Mellencamp: American Troubadour (forthcoming, University Press of Kentucky). He writes regularly for the Daily Beast and Splice Today. For more information visit

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year

"Some Assembly Required" is worth quoting at length today:

New Year's Day is an arbitrary and mostly fictional marker. It is common to pretend that some clear divisor has been set between what was and what will be. But that is a fiction mainly used to peddle prognostications that turn out to be as false as the occasion. 
For my part, I believe that more of the same will predominate, as always. History creeps in when we're not looking. We're told that the good times will continue, but most Americans won't know what the pundits are talking about. If times are so good, why are the majority of Americans worse off? The reality is that there has been little if any recovery over the last four years. Or eight, to give Obama his due.
More of the same: the global economy will not seize up suddenly and leave us all to starve in the dark, but it won't change much for the better, either. Wars and atrocities and inequality and rape and torture will all go on, and go on being ignored. So will the hollowing out of the American middle class, as what once were government prerogatives of a self-governing people continue to be treatied away to international corporations. 
Police will continue their extra-juridical execution of lower caste young men and the streets will pulse with ineffective protests – because protesting in the streets will not change the balance of power. Dying in the streets in large numbers might, but not any time soon.
The number of Americans trying to survive without a job will continue to increase, the effective standard of living for most of the population will continue to decline. The dollar is not going away and neither is the euro; high priced oil will return as fracking starts to subside, and climate change will continue to be ignored as we not-so-slowly burn our way to oblivion. The world’s finite supplies of petroleum, along with most other resources on which our extractive civilization depends, will continue depleting while we continue our blind faith in forever.
More of the same. We'll call it progress.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

As I Was Saying

America has managed to construct an entirely one-dimensional political system. There’s no discernible difference left between left and right, other than in spin language pre-cooked for the sole purpose of faking the concept of elections. There’s very right and ultra right. America is living proof that once money is allowed into politics, the accumulation of it, and of the power it can buy, will and eventually must fully control a democratic system, which in the process, of necessity, suffocates and dies a painful death.

What once was a proud American democracy has been turned into a circus that rolls into town every four years, filled with clowns that pretend to fight each other with over the top grotesque contraptions, but sleep in the same bed once the show is over and the audience has gone home.
Reminds me of my continuing theme, which will be called upon now far more frequently since the networks won't find anything interesting between now and November 2016 except the charade we call the presidential election.

Here's the source of the quotation above.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Munch, Munch

In terms of child poverty, the United States ranks 36th out of the 41 wealthiest nations. There are 2.5 million homeless children in the US, an all-time high. 65% of US children live in a home that receives aid from the federal government. 45% of US children belong to low income families. 45% of African-American children in the US live in “areas of concentrated poverty” (slums). The average American is 40% poorer today than before the recession, and 20% of US households will be able to eat Christmas dinner thanks to food stamps, about that many more courtesy of various food banks and charities. (source)
Happy holidays, y'all!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Let's Go Sailing

And what will we see? The ugly footprint of what we've done to the oceans is what. I tell you, the more I think on it, the more disgusted I've become with what we humans have done to the only planet we have.

A walk on the beach in Mumbai
What you see here in the photo is the shit you can see. What you cannot see nobody but deep-diving deep sea drones can see. And that is a universe of plastic on the sea floor. In recent years the production of plastic has quadrupled, so scientists expected to find much much more of it at the surface than they did.

That's because it's not there. It's down at the bottom of the oceans and seas.

The discovery of microplastic in such remote marine habitats raises new questions about the potential for plastic debris to contaminate the food chain. Scientists have already documented that fish, birds, turtles, and other marine animals eat plastic. Thompson and his team found an even greater accumulation of plastic than previously suspected. The more plastic there is, he says, the more potential for toxicity to marine life.

In the study, Thompson and his team concluded that every square kilometer of deep ocean contains about four billion plastic fibers—most are two to three centimeters in length and as thin as a human hair. The fibers are four times more abundant in the deep sea than in surface and coastal waters.

"Our results show evidence for a large and hitherto unknown repository of microplastics," Thompson wrote. "The prevalence of microfibers in all sediment cores and on all coral colonies examined suggests this contaminant is ubiquitous in the deep sea." source
 Isn't this wonderful news?

Monday, December 15, 2014

As a Public Service . . .

I present what I consider to be a treasure trove of information that almost anybody can find something in that's useful.

What are the most productive ways to spend time on the Internet?
All the below is by /u/Fletch71011-
  • No Excuse List - Includes sources for everything you can want. I included some more popular ones with brief write-ups below. Credit to /u/lix2333.
  • Reddit Resources - Reddit's List of the best online education sources
  • Khan Academy - Educational organization and a website created by Bangladeshi-American educator Salman Khan, a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School. The website supplies a free online collection of micro lectures stored on YouTube teaching mathematics, history, healthcare and medicine, finance, physics, chemistry, biology, astronomy, economics, cosmology, organic chemistry, American civics, art history, macroeconomics, microeconomics, and computer science.
  • Ted Talks - Talks that address a wide range of topics ("ideas worth spreading") within the research and practice of science and culture, often through storytelling. Many famous academics have given talks, and they are usually short and easy to digest.
  • Coursera - Coursera partners with various universities and makes a few of their courses available online free for a large audience. Founded by computer science professors, so again a heavy CS emphasis.
  • Wolfram Alpha - Online service that answers factual queries directly by computing the answer from structured data, rather than providing a list of documents or web pages that might contain the answer as a search engine might. Unbelievable what this thing can compute; you can ask it near anything and find an answer.
  • Udacity - Outgrowth of free computer science classes offered in 2011 through Stanford University. Plans to offer more, but concentrated on computer science for now.
  • MIT OpenCourseWare - Initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to put all of the educational materials from its undergraduate- and graduate-level courses online, partly free and openly available to anyone, anywhere.
  • Open Yale Courses - Provides free and open access to a selection of introductory courses taught by distinguished teachers and scholars at Yale University.
  • Codecademy - Online interactive platform that offers free coding classes in programming languages like Python, JavaScript, and Ruby, as well as markup languages including HTML and CSS. Gives your points and "level ups" like a video game, which is why I enjoyed doing classes here. Not lecture-oriented either; usually just jump right into coding, which works best for those that have trouble paying attention.
  • Team Treehouse - Alternative to Codecademy which has video tutorials. EDIT: Been brought to my attention that Team Treehouse is not free, but I included it due to many comments. Nick Pettit, teaching team lead at Treehouse, created a 50% off discount code for redditors. Simply use 'REDDIT50'. Karma goes to Mr. Pettit if you enjoyed or used this.
  • Think Tutorial - Database of simple, easy to follow tutorials covering all aspects of popular computing. Includes lots of easier, basic tasks for your every day questions or new users.
  • Memrise - Online learning tool that uses flashcards augmented with mnemonics—partly gathered through crowdsourcing—and the spacing effect to boost the speed and ease of learning. Several languages available to learn.
  • Livemocha - Commercial online language learning community boasting 12 million members which provides instructional materials in 38 languages and a platform for speakers to interact with and help each other learn new languages.
  • edX - Massive open online course platform founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University to offer online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide audience at no charge. Many other universities now take part in it, including Cal Berkeley. Differs from most of these by including "due dates" with assignments and grades.
  • Education portal - Free courses which allow you to pass exams to earn real college credit.
  • uReddit - Made by Redditors for other Redditors. Tons of different topics, varying from things like science and art to Starcraft strategy.
  • iTunes U - Podcasts from a variety of places including universities and colleges on various subjects.
  • Stack Exchange - Group of question and answer websites on topics in many different fields, each website covering a specific topic, where questions, answers, and users are subject to a reputation award process. Stack Overflow is used for programming, probably their most famous topic. Self-moderated with reputation similar to Reddit.
  • Wikipedia - Collaboratively edited, multilingual, free Internet encyclopedia. Much better source than most people give it credit for, and great for random learning whenever you need it. For those looking for more legit sources for papers and such, it is usually easy to jump to a Wikipedia page and grab some sources at the bottom.
Back to sane mode.
  • Ninite - Something I myself can personally recommend, its a safe download site with no toolbars and malware. Any software you need will be there, and I have discovered a lot of software there. (DELETED)
  • Free Electronic Component Samples from Texas Instruments - OP just had a $15 voltage regulator delivered for free. You need to create a free account, and then you get something like four free samples a month. This is incredibly useful for some harder to find parts. Plus they're good quality, as far as I know, and they ship fast using FedEx. (/u/LXL15)
  • The First Row - semi ILLEGAL site to watch sports events, proceed at your own risk. Many sports events are available there. (DELETED)
  • Pixlr Editor - Basic picture editor that will irritate people using Photoshop, but its easy and free, and if I'm using a crappy computer without any software (like I am now) I'd go there. (/u/xCry0x)
  • Mint- get your finances firmly under control. Downloads and categorizes transactions from your Debit and Credit accounts, and even tracks Mortgages and Car Loans. It allows you to set budgets for expenditures of certain types and then tracks those on a month-to-month basis and will nag you when you're spending too much on something. (/u/icyliquid)