Archive for the ‘World affairs’ Category

Venezia la Serenissima

October 2, 2022

I arrived in Venice and the rain poured down. The night was black, the canal was choppy, and there were dark mutterings of acqua alta as I clambered aboard the vaporetto.

I’d spent four hours behind the wheel, including a pit stop in Bologna where I got soaked buying wine—in northern Italy, there is some contempt for the offerings of the south—after all, these are the lands of Sangiovese, Chianti, Amarone, and of course Barolo.

The new prime minister may be a neo-fascist cantaloupe with a name that rhymes with minestrone, but honestly? No one here gives a shit. Unsurprising, since this is the seventieth government since WWII, or World War Eye Eye, as a friend of mine is fond of saying.

I’m sitting in an airline lounge and the Venetians are mobbing the drinks counter—as I write, I hear a litany of requests for espresso, Aperol, Prosecco, and an endless refrain of prego. This lust for libations is contagious—all around, Germans, Brits, and Iberians join the fun.

I haven’t been here in five years, during which the city shut down, gagged by the mascherina—only Italians could turn a pandemic into a fashion statement.

Even in good weather, getting into Venice is a royal pain in the ass—but the most serene republic has a way of taking you in her arms—in five minutes you’re in awe of… everything.

How can you resist the combo of anti-Mafia banner and lagoon police as you stroll over the Rialto bridge?

Today’s Venice is once again full of tourists—thirty million was the annual intake before COVID. Germans, Americans, and a smattering of other folks from Western Europe.

Conspicuous by their absence are the Chinese, still smitten by the Xi Jinping pandemic policy, and the Russians, enslaved to a latter-day psychopath—so at least there’s only the Italian Mafia to worry about, though the Prada and Gucci stores are aching for the oligarch gold.

The stop-start queue between Rialto and San Marco is governed by Google Maps, but at least no one gets poked in the eye by Chinese selfie-sticks.

The food is as good as ever, and the locals are cheery and friendly—tourism is the life-blood of the city, although the Venetians mainly commute on the vaporetto from Mestre and the surrounding suburbs—there’s no way they can afford the cost of living in this town!

As I trudge through the rainy alleys, duly equipped with an Indian-sold umbrella, in search of a bit of pesce and a glass or two of Ripasso, I chance upon a jazz bar—inside, I hear an indifferent version of Johnny B. Goode—someone thought it sounded good with a swing beat.

A classic Chuck Berry line comes into my head.

I got no kick against modern jazz, unless they try to play it too darn fast. I lose the beauty of the melody, until it sounds just like a symphony…

So here’s a masterclass from the best guitarist you never heard of.

She only did three tours with the late Michael Jackson.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Dumbing Down

September 11, 2022

Some books I read slowly and some I devour.

Humans are natural classifiers—we love pigeon-holing. He’s an idiot, she’s beautiful, a naturally happy baby, that dog was born angry… it’s how we roll.

Some people never read books—take the orangutan—in fact when you look at that pile of classified papers strewn over the carpet, you wonder how many light years it would take for those materials to be read. They’re pretty much his equivalent of a presidential library.

Others read books occasionally, some feel they should read regularly, so there’s always a book—what book are you reading at the moment?

Into the last pigeonhole go people like me who read various books concurrently—some apace. Ray Kurzweil’s book ‘The Age of Spiritual Machines’ is one of my slow books. Anne Applebaum’s ‘Red Famine’ is another, and Alvy Ray Smith’s ‘A Biography of the Pixel’ is yet another.

For different reasons.

Applebaum because the horrors comrades Lenin and Stalin committed to the Ukraine in the first half of the XXth century are worse than what the current dictator ending in ‘in’ is doing in the first half of the XXIst—I just can’t read it at one sitting—it’s too brutal.

Alvy Ray Smith because the parable of the pixel has a lot of math in it, and although I read a lot professionally, this kind of reading (and writing) should be both hobby and relaxation. The Pixel is a brilliant book, and the history of images, video, movies, and Pixar is compelling, but it is a journey.

Kurzweil is a futurist, inventor, and deep thinker. One of his big ideas is the singularity—a point when machines surpass humans in intelligence, which opens up the wriggly, elusive, and stinky can of worms called Artificial Intelligence.

AI is a recurring topic of mine and an integral part of my new book, The Hourglass—yes, I’ve finished it, after six years work—well, there’s an epilogue left to write, and that will happen later today.

I have very mixed feelings about AI—it’s the classic case of the sorcerer’s apprentice. We don’t know where we’re going, but we’re pushing on. It’s kind of weird—when humans emerged from prehistory, other animals must have thought, ‘These dudes don’t stand a chance.’

Elephants, lions, gorillas, wolves, and eagles did a two-minute threat assessment and concluded, ‘Look at these little rodents scurrying around. They can’t run, jump, trample, fight, or fly. I wonder if they even taste good.

Ever since that trivial underestimation by the entire animal kingdom, courtesy of a bizarrely brilliant brain, the opposable thumb, and tool development, we have engaged in controlling every other life form on the planet through domestication, mastication, and extermination.

In the case of AI, we seem inordinately keen to develop our new masters, and are well on the way to do so. This is Kurzweil’s singularity—he predicts it will occur by 2048—a mere quarter-century from now, or the generation time for humans.

In practice this means that any child born today will be subjugated by machines by the time they become an adult.

We see AI at work every minute of the day, for both good and bad—it helps simplify tedious tasks, improves medicine, grants access to knowledge… and replaces jobs that can be well performed by humans with impersonal and remote interaction.

I have speculated that humans will never be dominated because we are just too evil—we’ll never manage to make machines that nasty.

But there’s another side to AI that doesn’t work at all—it relates to ambiguity and interpretation, and of course that dovetails with humor.

Fallacious argument—not to be confused with fellatious argument—is one example.

The duchess has a beautiful ship but she has barnacles on her bottom.

This classic fallacy only works because in English ships are female, and it is quoted in guides for better writing, but humans can of course tell the difference—AI could analyze the statement and conclude that a barnacle is a marine crustacean—it would attribute a low probability to the assumption that the duchess regularly parked her ass in seawater, allowing the free-floating barnacle larvae to settle, review anti-fouling literature in the context of navigation, and draw the correct conclusion. A human would smile at the ludicrous statement and move on in a millisecond.

About ten years ago, researchers pointed out that simple questions whose answers are evident to humans give AI a run for their money.

Do alligators sew?

How long does it take a wolf to bake a cake?

Do newts play piano?

Can a ridgeback strum chords?

The above are my versions—Google made a pig’s ear of all the replies and the images it returned when answering that last question are dumb.

The most interesting features of this Google search are (i) that the global search showed no relevant hits and only produced a half-page of images; and (ii) there is no connection between dog and guitar. I called the file ridgeback rock to throw AI off the scent. Proper AI would suggest I’m taking the piss.

And yet, my last question is a refinement of ‘can dogs play guitar?’, a question any playful four-year old might pose. And if you said yes—I would, explaining dogs do that by squatting, extending their (fretboard) tail across their body and strumming with their right paw (unless they’re left-handed)— the child would giggle and tell you you’re teasing. Duh.

Oh, and FYI dogs never use thumbpicks.

But AI could explore the fact that ridgebacks are dogs and a chord is played on a stringed instrument such as a ukelele, mandolin, or guitar. The lack of association between dogs and musical instruments might give the computer a hint that I was taking the piss.

Incidentally, if you ask Google: Can cats take the piss?

It comes back with piffle such as ‘is my cat urinating inappropriately?

My deepest sympathy to folks who wander through life asking those sorts of questions.

Researchers into the dumb side of AI formulated ambiguous questions such as:

Joan made sure to thank Susan for all the help she had received. Who had received the help?

a) Joan
b) Susan

or

Sam tried to paint a picture of shepherds with sheep, but they ended up looking more like golfers. What looked like golfers?

a) The shepherds
b) The sheep

It tickles me particularly to imagine sheep looking like golfers—maybe they stole the crook.

Such questions, which are classified linguistically as anaphora, are AI kryptonite.

One of the foremost proponents of AI is IBM—forever embarrassed when its poster child Watson told Jeopardy that Toronto was a US city.

Perhaps they should have called it Sherlock.

Watson, I mean, not Toronto.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Diletto

September 3, 2022

In the United States, the market for vibrators is worth seven hundred and fifty million dollars per year. One California company sells four million vibrators annually—worth one tenth of the total market.

That means Americans purchase forty million dildos every year—I’m not sure of the gender and demographic split, but we can do a bit of math.

According to the U.S. census bureau, out of a population of 331 million, 258 million are eighteen and over—let’s leave teenagers out of this and go with that number.

Gallup estimates 5.6% of Americans are LGBT, so there must be more—let’s go with eight per cent, or about twenty million people. That leaves about one hundred and eighteen million straight women—I’m assuming heterosexual guys don’t buy vibrators, but I’m probably very wrong.

With these numbers, the potential market size is one hundred forty million citizens—that’s a new dildo purchased every three and a half years.

I wanted to know the price of these toys for my calculations and I soon found out Amazon has a whole section dedicated to er… sexual wellness, sporting no less than five categories of dildos—at times like this I realize what a sheltered life I’ve led.

I did a little digging and was stunned at the variety and creativity on display—it must be an extraordinary occupation to be a dildo designer, and the mind boggles at the testing and quality-control programs.

The prize for the most imaginative tool, if you excuse the pun (they had to come sooner or later, if you excuse the pun), goes to a product called Clone-A-Willy. I won’t paste an image, in the interest of good taste, but you can click the link (I bet you do)—among some of the other marketing blurb, we are told that this makes:

AN EXACT COPY OF YOUR FAVORITE MEMBER: Our medically tested molds capture incredibly life-like detail, making it the most personalized DIY dick casting kit on the planet!

Who knew?

Before I read the story of Chaloner, I thought vibrators were a product of the last century—well, the XIXth century, really, because of a decorative piece I saw in Venice in 2016.

On a dining room wall, there hung (sorry) an object closely resembling a hand-drill, but adapted for a thrusting motion—the proud owner of the restaurant (and the dildo) explained it was used as a medical device to treat women for hysteria.

This XIXth century vibrator is similar to the one I saw in Venice, but lacks the dashing Italian design. I return to Venice at the end of September and promise you a picture of the Gucci version.

I now stand corrected—and realize the vibrator has a long and noble history, dating back to at least the year 29,000 BC, during the Neanderthal period.

Predictably, the oldest example of this fine art was found in Germany—always a world leader in technology—but we’re talking about rock carvings, so it may be they were just dickpics.

The dildo, whose name originates in the Italian word diletto, or pleasure, is amply illustrated in the paintings of ancient Egypt—Cleopatra is said to have used a hollow gourd filled with bees as a vibrator—that must have been quite the orgasm!

Much like the history of empire, navigation, and wine, the Greeks are next on the scene. The Greek warriors would leave olisbos with their wives while on campaign in faraway places—the men believed lack of sperm led their women to hysteria—a recurring theme until the twentieth century.

Although dildos have been found throughout the centuries—including tools made of gold and ivory, for the landed classes—they were banned in England and the United States a few centuries ago, seen as a threat to male sexuality.

But of course a vibrator is simply another means for a normal woman to have an orgasm, which is as natural as the sunrise and the ocean.

Of the many articles I researched to bring you this chronicle, I’ve chosen one for further reading—sexual history isn’t taught at school, but it’s important.

I particularly enjoyed the humor in that text—the notion that the Ancient Greeks baked penis-shaped bread (I’ve seen variations elsewhere) is great, and of course that led to olive oil as a favorite—and at the time, the only—lube.

And the dietary notion that inserting a penile bread roll into your pussy rather than in the usual orifice is a great way of cutting on carbs just has to make you laugh.

Unsaturated fats too, if you’re into extra virgin olive oil—might end up as the dildo diet.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Cereal Killers

August 27, 2022

Where there’s muck there’s brass.

This little ditty is best said with a broad Yorkshire accent—and for those less familiar with obscure English slang, the skinny is: where there’s shit there’s money. Or we could have a go in Yiddish: where there’s drek there’s gelt—not at all sure that exists, but it could.

Okay, enough with the cunning linguistics already, although I must say drek is such a nice word for shit.

Drek before you trek, drekday, dipdrek… the mind wanders.

One thing is certain—troubled places and troubled times always share two qualities: danger and money.

And there are always hustlers, gamblers, conmen, and pavement artists ready to cash in.

For a minute, I wandered down the rabbit hole of conmen and discovered one unsavory fellow by the name of William Chaloner—in a nanodigression, I’ll share with you that this chap lived in the XVIIth century and was executed by hanging in 1699, after none other than Isaac Newton proved him guilty of high treason—to wit, forging the coin of the realm.

Chaloner merits a line in today’s article because during his career as a forger and conman he also sold dildos—I admire his devotion to his nature as a forger by… forging penises.

There’s an anonymous biography of yer man, called Guzman Redivivus—please do enjoy a short trip into obscurantism, courtesy of the Newton Project.

The Ukrainian war presents much muck and not a little brass. Energy companies are raking in profits, but today let’s talk about cornflakes.

And bread.

And biscuits.

And meat—in fact, and practically everything that contains starch, sweeteners, gums, or gluten.

Central to the supply of raw materials that drive the world food system—the emphasis here is on grain—are four gigantic multinationals called ABCD. These are ADM, Bunge, Cargill, and Dreyfus—the first three are American, the last is French—Dreyfus is a well-known name in France for all the wrong reasons.

Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Bunge are both publicly traded, so how are these guys doing?

ADM five year-to date stock prices on the NYSE.

Very well, thank-you.

For example, ADM’s net income is up 74% in Q2, its net profit margin is up 46%, and in the second quarter it handily beat its earnings per share forecast by 25%, with a 10% increase in revenue. Bunge’s stock is not quite so sanguine, but it’s still pretty healthy—the dips in its price reflect charges previously incurred.

The ADM chart shows the Covid dip in early 2020 followed by a steady increase until early 2022. As soon as the Winter Olympics ended—there are multiple reports that China told Putin not to invade until the end of the Olympics—the ADM stock began its steep climb.

Cargill is the largest private company in the world, with a revenue (2018) of 115 billion USD, and is notoriously tight-lipped about its business—Dreyfus is French-owned but based in Switzerland, and not much is known about it either.

Because of this uncertainty, it’s difficult to pin down what proportion of the world grain market ABCD control—estimates range from seventy to ninety percent. These are remarkably high numbers—even with uncertainty—and do not really fit the free-market concept.

Food prices are up by twenty per cent, and Cargill’s revenue is now 165 billion USD, up one third since 2018—Dreyfus revenues are about 1% of Cargill’s, but it reported a significant increase in profit.

With so many people in the US and Western Europe now suffering the kind of food insecurity they’re only used to seeing on TV in shows about developing nations, the pressure is rapidly mounting on ABCD.

There’s an argument that the profit margins on the grain giants have not increased, so what’s the fuss?

The fuss is that if you have a 5% profit margin on fifty billion sales that’s 2.5 billion, but on 100 billion it doubles. That extra 2.5 billion is made on the same volume—the sales haven’t doubled, just the unit price.

I’ve now been writing these pieces for almost fifteen years—during the early 2010s I forecast that austerity in Southern Europe might well lead to serious blood-letting—fortunately it didn’t happen then. With the benefit of hindsight, I very much believe it can happen now.

It is axiomatic that what happens in the US and Europe will always have a worse outcome in Africa, Asia, and South America—many countries there are already at a tipping point.

Desperate people do desperate things, wherever in the world they live, and…

violence is contagious.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Once Upon a Time

August 20, 2022

A rapper called Timati has taken over Starbucks in Russia. Like many US companies, the coffee giant responded to the Ukraine ‘military operation’—like calling open heart surgery a capillary puncture—by pulling out of the Russian Federation.

The takeover itself is irrelevant—the fact that Timati released a song called ‘My Best Friend is Vladimir Putin’ is far more worrying. Timati belongs to an ubiquitous category called sycophants, which these days also includes the vast majority of the US republican party.

Among Timati’s records—I won’t link any because they’re dreadful, but like many atrocious things they’re easily found—is one called ‘Moscow’, which has the dubious honor of getting pulled from YouTube after collecting 1.8 million dislikes.

The lyrics are pro-president, pro-mayor, anti-protest, and anti-gay. It refers to Moscow as ‘the city where they don’t hold gay parades’—non-gay pride, if you like.

When I was doing my PhD, there was a palace coup at the university and my supervisor got thrown out of my department. I watched in amazement as fellow graduate students, folks who regularly bought this guy presents—one woman even asked him for permission to get pregnant—turned on a dime and told me the most vicious stories about their professor.

All of them requested a change of supervisor—I did not, despite the fact that I remained in the department from which he was ejected—but then I’d never bought apples for the teacher.

This story illustrates two principles: the first is that moral courage is in very short supply, and the second is that if you’re surrounded by sycophants, they’ll be the first to hang you from a tree when your luck turns.

So before we go on, let’s have a song that celebrates summer and is sufficiently silly to make us all smile.

Some people are naturally disposed to be sycophants, but mainly it’s a matter of interest. That interest may be driven by fear—think Saddam Hussein’s cabinet—but money and professional hierarchy also works.

I’ve hired people and watched their fawning attitude to me, in sharp contrast to how they treat their colleagues, particularly those lower down the ladder—I find it despicable. Dictatorships, such as the multiple decades of Salazar in Portugal and Franco in Spain, create wonderful opportunities for a sycophant culture—which never fails to develop.

It’s a horrible, artificial context—full of back stabbing and falsehood—and it’s led to a whole industry of synonyms, including fawning, sucking up, groveling, and at the darker end, ass licking and brown nosing.

But of all the motivations for brown nosing, fear is undoubtedly the strongest driver.

I’d never thought I’d feel sorry for Liz Cheney, but I do see her as a beacon in a party blindsided by fear. The orangutan is on the record with “real power is… fear.” How is it that the land of the free—or in this case half of it, as represented in congress—is one giant marshmallow of fear?

In a democracy, fear cannot prevail.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Mount Kenya

August 14, 2022

The Western news this summer oscillates between the suffocating heat in Europe and the political heat in America, with occasional forays into the military heat of the Ukraine.

Elsewhere, though, things are happening.

Last Tuesday, August 9th, Kenya voted—a general election in Africa is always a momentous occasion, since it invariably reflects tribal rivalries—far more than it portrays policy or promotes peace.

In some nations, such as the former Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique, the incumbent party is so rooted to the power structure that change is as unlikely as uprooting a baobab with your bare hands.

The mighty baobab, called imbondeiro in Mozambique. The photo from early 2020, just before the pandemic paralyzed the planet, makes me dream of the vastness and peace of African big skies.

But Kenya is not a dictatorship and the tribal balance is different—it’s now the weekend, and they’re still counting votes.

In an article published earlier this year, I described my journey to Kisumu—the town is flagged as a spelling error in WordPress—home to the people of the lake.

The Luo, to which Obama belongs, are the ‘almost there’ tribe. Raila Odinga—the man who almost won the 2007 election—is of course a Luo, given away by the first letter of his surname. I couldn’t find the meaning of the name, but that didn’t stop me having a merry old time with Obonyo (born during locust infestation), Odek (born when the mother had picked up traditional vegetables from farm), and Okongo (born during celebration especially where alcohol brew is plenty).

In 2007, Odinga’s defeat by the Kikuyu incumbent Mwai Kibaki led to a de facto civil war—Odinga had been declared the winner until a Trumpian dream occurred—elections were held on December 27th, Odinga called victory on the 29th, and the next day two hundred and thirty thousand votes magically appeared, tipping the scales back to the Kikuyu candidate.

Like the Indian rain dance—it works because it only stops when the rain starts—it’s possible that in Kenya the vote count only stops when the Kikuyu candidate wins.

However, this time round, there is no Kikuyu running.

The man opposing the veteran Luo is called William Ruto, and he’s a Kalenjin.

The funny thing about Ruto is that he backed Odinga in 2007, while Uhuru Kenyatta backed Kibaki.

The two backers had at the time been charged by the International Criminal Court (ICC) with crimes against humanity after the 2007 election. In a marriage made in political heaven, Kenyatta and Ruto ran for office in 2013 and won the presidency—but now Kenyatta has served his two terms.

By the time the 2022 race came up, the Uhuru and William bromance was long gone, and now Kenyatta is backing the Luo candidate—who knew…

Right now, it looks like Ruto might make it—the Kalenjin are long distance runners—Daniel arap Moi was president for twenty-four years. But we’ll have to wait until Tuesday to know for certain.

If Odinga wins, he’ll exorcise the old saw that a Luo cannot become president in Kenya—only in the United States. It will be his fifth attempt, at the ripe age of seventy-seven.

From Reuters to the BBC, any mention of tribes is studiously avoided—in Kenya itself, it’s almost taboo, like a dark family secret. Nevertheless, the tribal narrative is key to determine political outcomes.

Kenya is beautiful, dangerous, and troubled.

May its future be as tall as the African skies.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Across The Universe

July 16, 2022

Universality is a unifying concept.

Aristotle coined the term ‘natural philosophy’ to describe the science of physics—in fact the Greek word φυσική, or physics, means knowledge of nature.

Rutherford reinforced that by stating ‘All science is either physics or stamp collecting’, which pissed off not a few colleagues.

The big idea behind physics is universality—principles that apply anywhere and everywhere—an example would be Newton’s second law, f=ma, which can be applied to the acceleration of gravity, the Gulf Stream ocean current, or a running dog (whether imperialist or not).

Universality also applies to a select group of three languages—Math, Music, and Love.

The three are strongly connected—love and music, duh; love and math in areas such as symmetry, reciprocity, and yes, antagonism; math and music? Well, that’s what I want to talk about today.

Most kids warm naturally to music—it’s formative: even the most tuneless parent soothes their child with some trivial tune—and children are thankfully tone-deaf in their early years.

When humanity began to make sense of sounds—millennia before the concepts of frequency and wavelength were formulated, let alone calculated—singers and players began to define scales.

A scale ends at a pitch (or frequency) that is double where you started—since the speed of sound is constant, that must be half the wavelength. The last note in the scale is an octave higher than the first note—the clue’s in the name, there are eight notes in a scale, the last one being the octave.

The English, ever practical—or perhaps anxious to be different from everyone else—called them A,B,C,D,E,F,G,(A)—the rest of the world uses Do,Re,Mi,Fa,Sol,La,Si,(Do). And since Do (or Doh) is C rather than A, that further complicates matters—next thing you know they’ll want to drive on the left!

So clearly A stands for arbitrary and C for The Continent, which one should steer well clear of—but music, like math, becomes complicated because of the way it’s taught.

There’s a whole body of science that derives from classical music, including a notation system (a staff or stave), and traditionally kids learn through variations on this (classical) theme. Scales are many and varied, with roots (pun alert) in Ancient Greece—for instance the Lydian and Dorian—or Persia.

Through the years, things have undoubtedly evolved—I googled ‘modern music lessons’, and the first hit was modernmusicschool.com—in Tehran, of all places. A little further down it says ‘Book a free trials lesson now!’, which given the nature of the Iranian regime, might well come in handy.

The school claims it will teach your favorite songs, but I wonder how one of the more popular offerings from the late great Janis Joplin would go down with faculty (it’s in D, by the way). As for the pics…

All children—except those with no interest at all—should learn music, precisely because of its connection to the other two universal languages, and the role it plays in our happiness—it’s so much easier to sing your blues away than to try to tell people about your heavy heart.

But kids don’t need to learn a lot of music theory—very little, in fact. And picking up on Aristotle, children will arrive at their own conclusions through inductive reasoning just like the early rock n’ roll artists, and the Beatles and the Stones did.

If you play a minor, it’s a sad song—you play a seventh, you’re hanging on the edge of the eighth floor, and you need to resolve—either jump off or get back in.

The fact that’s it’s actually a minor third or a dominant seventh is something you might be curious about at some point down the road, but right now it mustn’t stop you playing your favorite songs—Iranian or otherwise.

When you ask Wikipedia about the dominant seventh, it’s enough to put you off your lunch.

In music theory, a dominant seventh chord, or major minor seventh chord,[a] is a seventh chord, usually built on the fifth degree of the major scale, and composed of a root, major third, perfect fifth, and minor seventh. Thus it is a major triad together with a minor seventh, denoted by the letter name of the chord root and a superscript “7”. An example is the dominant seventh chord built on G, written as G7, having pitches G–B–D–F…

Keep it simple for children, add complexity as needed. The other thing you quickly understand about playing music is you have to count. Not really math, just arithmetic—it’s the three ‘R’s: Rock, Roll, ‘Rithmetic—musicians count with their feet, leaving the hands free for other tasks.

So there you are—if you can’t count, you’re shit out of luck.

When it comes to music, both Paul McCartney and I are self-taught.

I guess he just had a better teacher.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Eton Mess

July 9, 2022

Of all the British public schools—which of course are anything but public—Eton is the best known, and the one that most defines the English upper class. There is a clear track from Eton to Oxbridge—another nice British term (excuse the pun) that contracts Oxford and Cambridge as Britain’s only elite universities.

The British upper class is readily identified by its accent and often by an assortment of speech impediments—the range of impedimenta includes a lisped s, a fake stammer, and rhotacism—if you suffer from the latter you will of course pwonounce it wotacism. Wordpwess flags that as a gwamatical ewwor so it’s obviously not a vewy upper-class-fwiendly platform.

Mess is a good classifier for the Muppet show offered up by the British Government over the last week.

Since the vote of (no) confidence served up on June 6th by the 1922 Committee, where Johnson was clearly damned with faint praise, the road downhill has been sinuous and slippery.

Jeremy Hunt immediately threw down the gauntlet, writing ‘Today’s decision will be change or lose. I will be voting for change.’ Not everyone has good memories of Hunt’s stint as health secretary—at one point two doctors appeared with a placard that read, ‘I’m not a gynaecologist but I know a Hunt when I see one.’

Nadine Dorris—never the sharpest of tools—tweeted ‘Your pandemic preparation during six years as health secretary was found wanting and inadequate. Your duplicity right now in destabilising the party and country to serve your own personal ambition, more so.

Hunt’s duplicity has clearly been found both wanting and inadequate—must try harder, as they used to write in my public school report.

Over the last weekend of June, Britain basked in glory as Paul McCartney headlined Glastonbury on the pyramid stage, bringing on Springsteen to sing Glory Days. Then mid-week, an MP called Pincher was suspended for allegedly groping two men in a private members club (you couldn’t make it up).

Britain’s upper class also has form when it comes to er… unconventional behavior, so the fact that Pincher of the alleged member groping fracas was also deputy chief whip at the time conjures up all sorts of imagery.

In the grand scheme of things, such a non-event would be a fait divers, but in this case Johnson accumulated one cock-up (sorry) too many. Boris’s nemesis, Dominic Cummings, alleged that the prime minister had quipped ‘Pincher by name, pincher by nature’, adding fuel to an already satisfying blaze.

What followed over the past week can best be described as an Eton mess, as cabinet members resigned, half-resigned, were reassigned, accepted, resigned, and finally consigned their prime minister to the position of ex-prime minister.

It was an astonishing week in politics, and one that made Britain the comedic capital of the free world.

The reality soap opera continues, with the Conservative party now debating how long Johnson should stay in an office—the PM has appointed a new cabinet in the meantime.

The only way to assuredly throw him out is to change the 1922 committee rules and carry through a vote of no confidence, or to ‘go to the country’, a euphemism for a general election—the Conservative Party certainly has no appetite for that option, given the current national shit show—featuring an imminent recession, the euro-chaos in Northern Ireland, and rampant inflation.

And never, ever, ever, do British politicians of any stripe mention the ‘B’ word. Britain’s woes can be blamed on anything except Brexit.

The current farce has been further enhanced by the prospect of a Chequers wedding bash for Boris and spouse, which has been given as a reason for the lame duck PM to hang on for a few weeks—press reports currently suggest a change in venue, but invitations are already out.

Over the last two years, I regularly watched cabinet ministers on the Sunday circuit extolling Johnson’s virtues and excusing whatever his current mess might be—no longer, there’s not one voice singing his praises now.

Well, at least he has a dog.

As they say on Wall Street, if you want a friend, buy a dog

Not to worry. If the Chequers bash does materialize, I’m sure they’ll serve up a nice Eton Mess.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Bayraktar

July 2, 2022

I like a good acronym—at the moment I’m attempting a revolutionary new diet called SATNAV—Soup At Night And Voilá!

So far, it’s been at best moderately successful because I only use it at home—and there’s been a lot going on. Its other failing—perhaps even its Achilles heel—is that it doesn’t include wine. So, we’ll see how it goes—but at least the acronym is fun.

No one does acronyms like the military—the US armed forces are particularly fond of them. I suppose partly because their comms are a closed vocabulary of bellicose brethren, and perhaps also there’s a perception that terse terms are efficient and warlike.

I recently came across a typical milac—that’s the kind of abbreviation they’d use.

MALE—Medium Altitude Long Endurance. Who makes these things up? You might be forgiven for thinking it describes a middle-aged man’s penis, but in fact this is a term used in droneworld. I suppose if I pursued the penile permutations, ‘L’ might stand for ‘Little’ in more than a few cases, and an elderly fellow would have LOSE—Low Orbit Short Endurance—but I digress.

One of the best things about acronyms—and here comes the apex of digression—is that the good ones have multiple meanings. It might shock the military-industrial aeronautical complex to learn that MALE also stands for Married And Losing Everything—although I would have thought DALE (i.e. divorced) would be a better fit.

My favorite? Mothers Against Lousy Education. This is apparently from Egypt, so I’m perplexed that the acronym is not in Arabic—when I was there, I found hardly anyone spoke more than five words of English, presumably due to lousy education.

But in the world of military aviation—particularly of the unmanned persuasion, aka unmanned males—we’re talking about machines that fly at an altitude of 10,000 to 30,000 feet (3-10 km), and are autonomous for one to two days.

Like any other weapons system, as soon as it’s invented it becomes an arms race. At the latest count, at least twenty-three countries manufacture these MALE babies. The recipes are on the net—it took me seconds to find a research paper describing the ’11SYNERGASIA_6_629 Hellenic Civil Unmanned Air Vehicle – HCUAV.’

The C stands for Civil, but it becomes an increasingly narrow path as we meander along.

Perhaps the best-known MALE is the Predator, widely used by the USAF in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria, but there are many others, including Chinese, Russian, European, and Israeli offerings.

Military equipment means big money, but concerns about its use often lead to export restrictions—the same happens with the application of sanctions, and the end result is often that nations develop competing products in-house.

The US and Turkey couldn’t reconcile their differences on the sale of MALE armed unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, because the American administration was concerned about their use against the Kurdistan People’s Party, or PKK. The Kurds have a long history of struggle against Turkey, and the PKK is a major thorn in Erdogan’s side—the Turkish regime wouldn’t hesitate to use UAVs against them.

Deprived of Predators, Reapers, and the like, the Turks rolled their own.

What they came up with was the Bayraktar, an armed drone that has become famous during the Ukraine war.

The drone’s TB2 model is capable of flying for twenty-seven hours at an altitude of eighteen thousand feet with a payload of four laser-guided missiles. According to the manufacturer, Baykar, the UAV is exported to thirteen countries which include Qatar, Azerbaijan, and Ukraine, and it has logged four hundred thousand hours of flight.

In the Ukraine war, the TB2 has become wildly successful at taking out Russian materiel, including tanks, trucks, and surface-to-air missiles. The joy it’s given to the Ukrainian armed forces prompted a song—not the best song in the world, but one with vivid images, English translations, TikTok offshoots, and a number of versions—even one that’s an hour long.

When your family and friends are dying, heart is where the hope is.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

The Poorhouse

June 26, 2022

Over the last two hundred years, the poorhouse took in—I almost wrote cared for—the destitute and indigent folks, nobly trading work for food and shelter, but also featuring such choice perks as physical punishment.

In the United States, poorhouses were often associated with prison farms—you get the picture. Elsewhere, the lot of the poor was little better—and in much of the world, far worse—it still is.

It was this asymmetry between poor and rich, labor and capital, that fermented the ideas of Carl Marx and Friedrich Engels and ultimately led to over a century of social experiments with communism.

I read The Communist Manifesto around the same time I read Animal Farm and I could not reconcile my knowledge of evolutionary biology and primate behavior with a system where humans could not elevate themselves gainfully according to their capacity—inevitably, some animals would be more equal than others.

Communism would never be the solution to the woes of poor people if by increasing poverty in general those folks became marginally less poor. In practice, both hard-right and hard-left systems led to the same societal outcomes: the formation of small elites, different gradations of large communities of poor people, and general social malaise.

Wildcat capitalism and the control of the poor through low wages, lack of education, and physical violence—the mainstay of the Iberian peninsula in the times of Franco and Salazar—is (and was) always going to end badly.

Let us take another case. In the winter of 1847, in consequence of bad harvest, the most indispensable means of subsistence – grains, meat, butter, cheese, etc. – rose greatly in price. Let us suppose that the workers still received the same sum of money for their labour-power as before. Did not their wages fall? To be sure. For the same money they received in exchange less bread, meat, etc. Their wages fell, not because the value of silver was less, but because the value of the means of subsistence had increased.

These words, written by Uncle Carl almost two hundred years ago, ring a disturbing echo in the summer of 2022. The world is very different now but the consequences of price rises in energy and food—a double whammy for the latter due to both energy costs and scarcity—are similar.

Many of the families now struggling are heavily in debt—there’s a mortgage to pay and a orgy of assorted liabilities: energy bills, cell phones, vehicle installments, pre-booked holidays, credit card arrears…

I was going to play you the Ry Cooder version of this classic, but by the time I dried the tears from my eyes it had to be this one.

And the outcomes are fairly predictable.

Russia sells less gas in Europe and a lot more in China and India, which in a high energy cost market gives it ample ammunition, if you excuse the pun, to prosecute its ‘special operation.’

Grain has been weaponized—many African nations had long-standing relationships with the USSR—including all the Portuguese ex-colonies. The Soviets always projected themselves as a bastion of resistance against Western imperialism and Russia is now more than happy to sell grain to Egypt and other African nations in exchange for support for its actions in the Ukraine.

This is particularly easy because Russia is selling grain it doesn’t own. The story has been breaking in Western media in recent weeks—it tells a simple and eminently believable narrative, whereby wheat and other products stored in cities like Melitopol are being trucked to Crimea and then shipped through Istanbul to Turkish or North African ports in the Eastern Mediterranean.

It’s a real-life espionage thriller, with bulk carriers turning off their transponders in the middle of the Black Sea and satellite images showing Russian vessels docking in Syria.

Satellite images from Maxar allegedly show the Russian ship Matros Kozynich transporting stolen Ukrainian grain to Syria.

The Turks say they’re investigating Western claims, all the while stalling the admission of Sweden and Finland into NATO, and the politicians in Washington, Brussels, and London are busy figuring out the best way to respond, while all the time things at home unravel.

Britain kicked off the inevitable industrial action but strikes and protests are mushrooming in the West. People who live paycheck to paycheck and carry a mountain of debt are suddenly caught in a tipping point where they are simply unable to get by—it’s no longer a question of doing without everyday indulgences, it’s the inability to afford essential goods.

With inflation nudging ten percent in the US, EU, and Britain, politicians are listening to the voters and beginning to turn a deaf ear to Zelensky—this, of course (excuse the atrocious pun) is just grist to the vladimill.

Framing the Western drama is the terrible inequity between haves and have-nots, a surefire recipe for demagogues. And while the citizens of the EU break under ten percent inflation, Turkey registered 73.5% in the last year.

The global consequences of this relatively small war are already breathtaking and will continue to worsen.

Tell me how can a poor man stand such times and live.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


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