down a rock music rabbit hole

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(Image above from a Birdeatsbaby video)

This is how an entire afternoon can disappear. Recently I was perusing a long list of rock music genres and sub-genres when I came across this one:

Italian Occult Psychedelia

How could I not look into it? Before long I was on Spotify listening to a band called Cannibal Movie. Imagine if you dumped a beat up old carnival organ into a swamp, and then the Creature from the Black Lagoon sat down and began to play. The sound burbling up from the water is their song, “Fame.”  

Take a less distorted organ and add somber drumming and gothic chanting and you’ve got Capra Informis. Music to play at a goat sacrifice – “Tunnels of Cliphoth.” From here I moved on to …

Math Rock

I listened to music from several bands in this genre and really couldn’t detect a common denominator (ha ha) among them. One British group called Three Trapped Tigers had an album called “Numbers: 1-13” with songs labelled 1, 2, etc., as befitting math rock. I like a lot of this music. Another group, from Japan, called Ruins was utterly different and berserk. I recommend this inspired weirdness called “Skhanddraviza,” which must be an homage to Frank Zappa.

Folk Metal

I started with Finntroll. I don’t know why, but this combination of black metal and a type of Finnish polka music was hard to take seriously. It kept reminding me of the Stonehenge scene from Spinal Tap. Much of this genre is Scandinavian. However, the Orphaned Land is out of Israel, mixing metal with Middle Eastern folk music. Here they are live, doing a number without the deep growly voice technique they use on other songs. Finally, I’ll end with:

Dark Cabaret

Picture a group of young circus vampires trying to look menacing while playing squeezeboxes. Face makeup, accordions, and a theatrical style create the cabaret and lyrics about death and destruction make it dark. The Tiger Lillies recommend mindless insurrection in “Start a Fire.” I really like the stop motion style video for this Birdeatsbaby song called “The Trouble.”

You can have the same adventure I did by following the links to the music videos above. As an avant-guard metal band, Gorguts, says, “As spleen takes over me, resound, the echoes of my threnodies.” Live at the Brutal Assault festival.

(Avant-garde metal band, Giant Squid.)

usa – “let’s abandon leadership, go backwards”

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A quick summary of responses to Trump abandoning the Paris Climate Agreement.

Corporate Support for the Paris Climate Agreement

A few companies that support the Paris accords

Ford, GM, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Walmart, Amazon, ExxonMobile, and ConocoPhillips.

Some corporations and CEOs that not only support the Paris agreement but publicly disagree with Trump’s decision

Jeff Immelt, CEO GE, Ben van Beurden, CEO Royal Dutch Shell, David MacLennan, CEO Cargill, Jamie Dimon, CEO JPMorgan Chase, Lloyd Blankfein, CEO Goldman Sachs, Tim Cook, CEO Apple, Mark Zuckerberg CEO Facebook, Mark Benioff, CEO Salesforce, Sundar Pichai, GEO Google, Elon Musk, Tesla, SpaceX – Resigned from White House business advisory council in protest, Bob Iger, Walt Disney – Resigned from White House business advisory council in protest

HP, DuPont, Nike, UnileverAdobe, Intel, Levi, Mars – all signed a letter urging Trump to stay with the Paris agreement

Coal companies that asked Trump to stay with Paris agreement
Cloud Peak Energy and Peabody Energy

Calculate how much of the U.S. economy is represented in the list above. It’s safe to say that these are people who make pragmatic decisions.

Economic Impact of Pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement

Fastest growing occupations: #1 is wind turbine technician, #29 solar photovoltaic installers. Why are we not prioritizing clean energy jobs instead of fossil fuels?

“1.1 million Americans work in electric-power generation through traditional fossil fuels, but renewables follow closely with 880,000 employees.” And guess which one is growing? There are more jobs in solar power than in the coal industry.

“The decision means the U.S. will miss out on some the $1.4 trillion global business opportunity that the global low-carbon economy represents.”

Despite this, Trump has decided to let China and Europe take the lead in clean energy development and leave the U.S. behind in a growing industry.

Trump Continues to Spew Lies on the Topic (no surprise)

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/donald-trump-climate-accord-fact-check

Meanwhile in the Reality-Based Universe

Every year it gets harder for denialists to find cover. You have to believe that every major climate science organization across the globe, and almost all climate scientists worldwide, are in error or engaged in a huge conspiracy to cover up the truth. There is no factual support for denialism, just an occasional op-ed in the Wall Street Journal from someone outside the field, or posts by some energy industry funded propaganda outfit. That’s pretty thin gruel. 

Oh, and you must believe that, along with U.S. corporations and science community, the 197 signing governments and 147 ratifiers of the Paris Climate Agreement are all deluded, too. Syria didn’t sign (in the middle of a war) and Nicaragua (thought it was too weak) and now the U.S. (Trump).

Incidental info: The oceans are warming, we hit temperature records each year, wildlife is moving north, etc. etc.   https://climate.nasa.gov/  

It’s encouraging that individual companies, states, and cities in the U.S. are vowing to continue with climate change mitigation. Let’s act like there’s a civilization on earth. Let’s look ahead and plan.

super brain is out to get you

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I recently read yet another article about the alleged threat posed by artificial intelligence. I don’t buy it; at least as this story is usually framed. When someone says that the danger lies in self-aware, volitional computer intelligence, I think they are projecting science fiction plots onto reality. When they talk about a runaway recursive loop of smarter-than-human computers creating even smarter computers, and so on unto “singularity,” they are pretending that real life resembles a really cool novel they once read.

When do we get there and where is “there”?

I think it’s so very unlikely and/or so far off, that it would be a wasted effort to worry about it, and even worse to take action on it when there are so many actual serious problems to deal with. Why do I think that? Point me to an example of a self-aware, volitional computer to justify the concern. Show me any non-biological intelligence. As far as I’m aware, examples offered as even the beginnings of this are stretching the definitions of “intelligence” and “self-awareness” to the breaking point.

There is no clear and obvious path from where we are now to a human-like artificial intelligence. People have been working on AI for decades and are no closer. I think it’s possible in principle, and we may get there, but where are the signs that we’re even close? To take one crude example, do you think that something will just “wake up,” given enough processing power? Are there even hints of this happening? Look at the Blue Brain Project, it’s a great thing, but I don’t think anyone involved would say they are even remotely near such an achievement.

Smarter than what?

I think we have another problem, which is even knowing what it means to have a computer that is smarter than humans. Already there are computers that perform calculations much faster than people. Is that it? Most people would say no. They mean a computer that is “super-intelligent,”  as far beyond us as we are beyond a microbe. Again, people tend to mean self-aware machines with desires of their own, but super, and incomprehensible. I think we’re assigning magic to consciousness and intelligence. Just scale up the “smartness” 10 or 100-fold and magic happens. The machines will save us. No, they’ll destroy us. No, they’ll put us all in a simulation. No, we’re already in one.

I’ve heard some alarmists suggest that if it happens just once – if a smarter-than-human intelligence develops — we’re in trouble. Then it’s too late. The genie is  out of the bottle. How does it get the better of us? Maybe it’s so smart that it uses its super-smart AI silver tongue to talk us into not unplugging it. Or maybe it replicates itself all over the internet, and somehow (magic) gains control of our physical environment and eradicates us. It makes smarter copies of itself, and the smarter it gets, the more magic happens.

Get real

I think a genuine threat is humans giving increasing responsibilities to machines without developing sufficient safeguards. An example would be a self-driving car that can’t handle certain tricky situations on the road. That’s a danger. A malfunctioning gun-wielding military robot that selects its own targets – that’s a danger.  A runaway super-smart AI? Not so much. It’s a gross misuse of resources to spend money combatting evil machines. We have bigger fish to fry like poverty, disease, war, and climate change.

the dumb creepy uncle who became president

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So Trump is in the middle of an investigation of his administration’s ties to the Russian government and potential collusion with Russians to win the election. This is what he does:

Meets Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov in the White House, and does not invite the US press, but allows Russia’s TASS news agency in. Thanks to photos published by TASS, we know that Russian Ambassador Kislyak was there (the one with whom the now fired National Security Advisor Michael Flynn discussed the upcoming election).

  • Trump reveals highly classified information to the Russians during this meeting.
  • Also during the meeting, he tells Russians that he got rid of that “nut job” FBI Director James Comey. Trump tells them he was under “great pressure” because of Comey and the Russian thing.

That’s right. He fired the man leading the FBI investigation of the Trump/Russia connection. The White House said it was because of a memo describing Comey’s poor handling of the Clinton email investigation. 🙂  Then Trump said he was going to fire him anyway because “this Russia thing” is a made-up story.

How many times do we have to be hit over the head with the reality that Trump is as incompetent as he seemed to be all along? Even if he has no sinister ties with Russia, it will be hard to believe it after this. It’s only May and he already looks like someone who got his foot stuck in a bucket, and he’s clomping around the house, running into things, with a fallen curtain over his head. 

If only he was a Russian oligarch himself, he could order the murder of his enemies, consolidate his power, and shut down the press. He could freely indulge in his genital-grabbing predilections. I don’t think he can get away with any of that here. I’m an optimist.

seattle area winter

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I’ve been sadly neglectful of this blog. I’ll post a few photos from the long cloudy winter:

Ebey’s Landing in February

Rattlesnake Ledge in March

A rare bit of snow seen from our deck in December

An obstructed view of Space Needle fireworks on New Years

Dreaming of a purple Christmas

our republican president – our terrible mess

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In case for some reason I want to look back on this amazing moment in history, I’ve compiled some of the consequences of electing an incompetent president. Here are a few examples of the mess:

Refugee and immigration ban – doomed to failure

The executive order barred entry to the U.S. from seven Muslim-majority countries (newly arriving immigrants and refugees from these countries would be deported), detained and interrogated green card holders from those countries, suspended the U.S. refugee admission program, and revoked 60,000 visas.  That was the idea, anyway. Details of how to carry out the order and exactly who it applied to were unclear. 

The vague executive order created immediate chaos at airports around the country as travelers, immigration attorneys, airlines, and customs workers tried to understand it. Legal U.S. residents were detained. Returning students were blocked. People who risked their lives for the U.S. in Iraq and were promised resettlement here were barred from the country. Ironically, people from Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (home of the 9/11 terrorists) were untouched by the ruling.

The poorly written and conceived order was easily subject to legal challenges. A federal judge in New York immediately ordered a stay on deportations of people with valid visas. Another federal judge placed a temporary stay on the travel ban. A 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel unanimously ruled against reinstating the ban. 

The Michael Flynn debacle

Let’s start with chronological list of events.

  1. On 12/29/16, the U.S. put sanctions on Russia for interfering with the U.S. election, and expelled diplomats.
  2. The next day, Flynn (Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor) called Russian ambassador Kislyak and discussed the sanctions, possibly undermining Obama, who was still in office. (Private citizens cannot negotiate on behalf of the U.S. The secret discussions also opened Flynn to potential blackmail by Russians.)
  3. That same day, Putin announced that Russia would take no action in retaliation to the expulsion, which is unprecedented. Almost immediately afterward, Trump sent out a Tweet:  “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!”
  4. Flynn denies (to press spokesman Sean Spicer and Vice President Pence) that he discussed the sanctions.
  5. 1/20/17. Flynn becomes National Security Advisor.
  6. The FBI has recordings of Flynn’s phone calls and knows he’s been lying. The Trump team is informed. Flynn is allowed to continue to attend security briefings anyway. 
  7. After a Washington Post report, Flynn acknowledged that he had “inadvertently briefed the vice president-elect and others with incomplete information regarding my phone calls with the Russian ambassador.”
  8. Flynn is out, setting the record for the shortest tenure of a National Security Advisor.

Interesting details – Why are FBI and NSA listening in on these conversations? Since 1981, the FBI and NSA have had authority to monitor the calls and emails of foreign officials within the U.S. and have been doing so. Flynn should have known his conversation would likely be recorded. Kislyak certainly knew.

Per regulations, if the conversations had been innocent and routine, Flynn’s part of the conversation would have been deleted. However, something that was said in the call flagged an intelligence analyst to move it up to the next level of analysis. And the next level. And then it went to James Comey, FBI Director, and his deputy, who had to decide if the communication needed more investigation, and they thought that it did.

In other words, the recording of calls was routine, but there are specific requirements – hurdles to be jumped – before something is considered serious enough for the kind of attention Flynn got. We the public need to know more about what he said, and whether Trump knew and approved.

Source: http://www.newsweek.com/why-flynn-russia-affair-troubling-trump-559132

Outpouring of Lies

As with before the election, the President has spewed lies in a quantity not seen in any U.S. president in my lifetime and probably for many decades before that. Examples:

“I guess it was the biggest electoral college win since Ronald Reagan.”
It was the 46th biggest win out of 58 elections.

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
There is no evidence to back up this claim.

“The murder rate in the United States is the largest that it’s been in 45 years.”
Highest rate was in 1980, the lowest was in 2014, and it’s still extremely low.

“Here in Philadelphia murder has been steady — I mean — just terribly increasing.”
Last year Philadelphia’s murder rate was the third lowest in the last 26 years.

“If Russia, or some other entity, was hacking, why did the White House wait so long to act? Why did they only complain after Hillary lost?”
Obama publicly denounced Russia for trying to influence the election on 10/7/2016, well before the election. 

Referring to a TV network that reported that 250,000 people attended Trump’s inauguration: “That’s not bad, but it’s a lie…there were people all the way back to the Washington Monument…So we caught them. And we caught them in a beauty. And I think they’re going to pay a big price.’’
Aerial photos clearly show there were not people going back the Monument (as they were at Obama’s inaugural) and judging by bus usage, the 250,000 number is close to the truth.

“I’m a very big person when it comes to the environment. I have received awards on the environment.”
One of his golf courses got a “green” award for landscaping that included a nature trail. If there are more, no one has found them.

Took credit for Ford’s decision not to open a new auto plant in Mexico.
Ford says they did it for business reasons, not for Trump.

Trump claimed that two people were fatally shot in Chicago during Obama’s last speech as president.
Nope.

Is there any reason to believe anything this president says, when he lies on an almost daily basis? Is this good for the country? Is he a good role model? If these are mistakes instead of lies, then he’s grossly incompetent. 

Murky Ties to Russia

Putin’s Russia tried to influence the U.S. election in favor of Trump by selective leaks of hacked data. Confirmed by multiple U.S. intelligence agencies.

Trump has been highly complimentary of Putin, who is likely responsible for the murder of many journalists and political opponents, has used the presidency to enrich himself, keep himself in power, quash opposition, and start wars of conquest. In Putin’s defense, Trump said, “Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too.” 

One-time Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort  has ties to pro-Russian politicians in Ukraine. He worked for Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president.

Trump held the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Russia and personally invited Putin. He has also been trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Trump’s former campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page advised Russian gas company,  Gazprom.

Former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn attended a gala for state media network RT with Putin, and later lost his job for talking to the Russian ambassador about U.S sanctions and then lying about it.

This month the New York Times reported about three men pushing for a back-channel peace deal between Russia and Ukraine. The men do not represent the U.S. government. Two of them are Trump business associate Felix Sater and Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen (who founded an ethanol business in the Ukraine). 

Donald Trump Jr., said at a real estate conference in 2008, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” 

Is there anything sinister or suspect about all these Russia ties? It would help to know how big Trump’s financial ties to Russia are, but he refuses to release his tax records, even after the election. Why? Also, how much of that 35-page dossier on Trump allegedly compiled by the Russian government is true? Citizens deserve clarity on these issues.

Draining the Swamp?

A few of Trump’s cabinet members and a strategist:

Rex Tillerson – Secretary of State. Former president and CEO of ExxonMobile, where he worked for over 40 years. Where is his experience as a diplomat, vs. a business deal maker? Made large business deal in 2011 with the Russian oil company Rosneft. Received the Order of Friendship from the Russian government in 2012. Under Tillerson, ExxonMobile paid a lobbying group almost $200,000 to oppose economic sanctions on Russia. Conflicts of interest?

Steven Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary. First hedge fund manager to run the treasury. Formerly of Goldman Sachs and CEO of OneWest Bank. He is known as the “Foreclosure King,” based on OneWest’s practice of buying distressed mortgages during the financial crisis and evicting thousands of homeowners. He helped create the swamp.

Scott Pruitt, EPA. Classic fox-guarding the henhouse situation. As Oklahoma Attorney General, he sued the EPA 14 times, including opposition to limits on environmental mercury, and anything that would fight global warming. He sent letters to the Interior Department and EPA that were written by energy lobbyists — simply putting his name at the bottom and using government stationery — indicating that he’s a puppet for industry, not a representative of voters. 

Steve Bannon, Chief Strategist. A founder and former CEO of Breitbart News. Under Bannon, Breitbart published lies about Obama being a Muslim and being born in Kenya; lies about the “Pizzagate” child sex ring; lies about Hillary Clinton health issues; and lies about a mob of migrants setting fire to a church in Germany. Chief Strategist and Liar?

Danger Man

Our Republican president seems terribly unstable. He throws around insults with abandon in off-the-wall rants. Anything he doesn’t agree with is “fake news.” He continually talks about how great he is. Hangs up on the Australian prime minister. Privately brags about assaulting women. Sends angry Tweets about a department store. He acts like a spoiled, vindictive child.

Consider this – the actions of the worst president in recent history (Republican George W. Bush) left hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children dead and injured. The useless invasion of Iraq is one of the biggest and most horrendous blunders in American history. Yet Bush’s personality isn’t nearly as unhinged as Trump’s. Should we expect even worse from the new president?

Trump’s command of the military and the nuclear codes could cause utter devastation. A childish bully is the wrong man to hold this power. There is no predicting what he might do. Surely the leaders of ISIS see that provoking the man could cause an overreaction that would bring them plenty of recruits. Trump may also come to see war as a way to rally people around him.