Sunday, July 31, 2016

High Flyers

I found these two miniature Japanese kites at a yard sale six years ago.  They have been hanging on my den wall ever since and the colors have gotten very faded.  Still, they are nice reminders of my own kite flying adventures from years past.

This morning I entered the search term, "Japanese kites" into Google and was surprised when I clicked on the "Images" option to find not only a fine collection of kite images but also a very nicely designed page on the subject including a row of tabs at the top pointing to categories of kite lore and images.

I was also reminded that Google in its early days had actual humans who maintained lists of links on popular topics.  The explosive growth of the web and automated search algorithms have moved us light years beyond those days.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Where we are now.

At this moment between the end of the primaries and the final stretch to November it seems to be a good time to reflect on lessons learned.  My first thought at this point is that Bernie Sanders candidacy showed the usefulness of backing an individual, who though he may have not been faultless, nevertheless brought out a lot of truths about our society and brought together a diverse coalition of the left.  It is not surprising at this point that the coalition is breaking up into its component parts, but it seems to me that the Sanders run showed the importance of committing to an actual electoral effort.

Another thing which I think has been clarified by the contest is that none of the primary aspirants really addressed the importance of digital technology and its relationship to the economy.  For instance, there are significant relationships between technological developments and the need for patent and copyright reform, along with internet governance issues which hardly have been touched on in the election so far.

Sanders had good ideas about educational reform, but I don't recall him mentioning the revolutionary possibilities offered in that area by digital technology, or any real specifics about the distortions created by commercialization and monopolies.  Even with free tuition, there would still be many economic disincentives to education holding us back, one of the foremost being the cost of text books at all levels.  There is really no excuse for that to continue in this digital age.  India and Brazil have made huge progress toward making texts universally accessible in digital form and on line, and those examples could easily become part of the electoral conversation.

The Sanders team made some real strides in exploiting the possibilities for on line campaign financing from small donors.  Like the other candidates, however, I did not see Sanders exhibiting any real appreciation of the importance of the digital components of the economy.  Clinton obviously lacks an understanding of digital security issues.  Trump does not seem able to get beyond Twitter trolling.  All of them seem to be focused on rather low-level tech support and statistical and polling techniques rather than broader issues of importance to tackling economic development and economic inequality.  It would be nice to see the inclusion in their teams of economists, educators and social scientists with some real competence to address these issues.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Still with Bernie

picture from
Bernie Sanders endorsed Clinton before the convention and he reiterated that support in his speech last night, to the consternation of many of his supporters.  What I think is important to bear in mind is that his backing of his primary opponent has not been the result of any expectation of personal gain.  Think for a moment about the contrast with the Republican convention where people like Christie, and Rubio sacrificed their honor to kowtow to a man whom they had previously scorned.

Sanders is not looking for a job in the Clinton administration.  He clearly is sticking with his positions on the economy, on education and on election reform.  He is backing Clinton in spite of reservations about her entanglement with Wall Street, Big Pharma and Big Energy because he sees the Trump alternative as unthinkable.  Whatever the outcome of the November election, I foresee Sanders continuing with his revolutionary agenda, and he has in fact announced that intention immediately following his convention appearance.

It is not hard to understand the disappointment of Sanders supporters who worked hard in his campaign and who now are faced with the additional slap in the face from the revelations stemming from the hacked DNC emails.  Nevertheless, it seems risky to the point of recklessness to resort to abstention or support of a third party candidate in the name of ideological purity.  The idea that dealing a fatal blow now to the admittedly corrupted two-party system will ultimately lead to a progressive triumph is a bet with very long odds.

Even with the best and brightest in some top elective positions, governance of a country the size of the United States is mind-bogglingly difficult and complex.  The tipping point between success and failure of any agenda is always fraught with a near infinitude of variables.  A very good example of this is provided in a New Yorker article by Connie Bruck, Why Obama Has Failed to Close Guantánamo.  In spite of the implications of the article's title, I think what it demonstrates best is the incredible inertia in the country's vast political system which constrains even the most rational changes.  Given that level of  fragility in our political system, it seems all too certain that handing Trump any chance to  flood the government with his gang of thugs is an irresponsible choice.

Monday, July 25, 2016


Dennis Slifer
Five of Dennis Slifer's books on Southwest rock art are listed on Amazon.  The most familiar to me is Signs of Life: Rock Art of the Upper Rio Grande. I think I acquired the book soon after it was published in 1998, and it has served as an indispensable guide to my own explorations of the subject since that time.  Slifer was a geologist working with the New Mexico Environment Department when he produced the book.  His scientific background coupled with unflagging enthusiasm gives his rock art work an unmatched quality of authority as well as a high level of artistry thanks to his talents for writing, drawing and photography.

I discovered only recently that since retiring in 2007 Slifer has self-published thirteen books using BLURB.  As Slifer says:
... With the advent of self-publishing software and print-on-demand books I am now empowered to produce a book about rock art for myself, free of the demands of publishers, reviewers, editors and marketing directors.

In Slifer's BLURB collection, the one that immediately caught my eye was Art on the Rocks: The Best of the Quest.  The book is 224 pages in length and features photographs of the author's favorite rock art sites made over a period of thirty years.  Given the length and quality of the book the hardcover price of $87.99 is unsurprising, if a bit daunting.  Slifer's on line preview of the book on BLURB generously displays all the photos.  With the selection of the full-screen option the preview text is a bit small for comfort, but still readable.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

So, did you watch it?

I tuned in when Giuliani was at the podium.  He did a pretty good rendition of the power-mad super villain in a B-grade James Bond parody.  Lots of shouting, arm waving and pointing at himself as he said what he did for New York, Donald Trump would do for the country.  The PBS panel cut away in the midst of his speech to try to make sense of the moment; they all looked embarrassed to be there.

The playbook highlight of the night was an infomercial delivered by Mrs. Trump about her husband, proclaiming him kind and loyal while being tough when needed.  She said that if granted the privilege to become first lady she would concentrate on helping women, children and the poor.  Presumably, she has the resources available to identify poor people, but one has to wonder how interested they will be in beauty and fashion.  A lot will be riding on the quality of the hors d'oeuvres. (The Guardian video nailed it.)

The delegate audience started heading for the doors as Mrs. Trump was wrapping up her contribution.  General whatshisname stood up straight and looked stern while delivering a content-free speech with a few "USA" thrown in with no exclamation mark, and a deflated over-the-shoulder response by the departing delegates.

It was all a reminder, if one is needed, that in the daily course of events authoritarian, fascist regimes are excruciatingly dull.  They ultimately have to torture and kill to make themselves seem interesting.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Western Lands

The Four Corners region including southeast Utah contains examples of ancient art that rivals that found anywhere else in the world.

Horseshoe Canyon -- Wikipedia
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has been touring the area and speaking with groups including environmental and tribal groups asking for protection of 1.9 million acres in the Bears Ears area through designation of the area as a National Monument.  It is estimated that the region contains around 100,000 archaeological sites which are largely unprotected and currently subject to looting, vandalism and grave robbing.

Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) has introduced a bill which would transfer all federally-owned energy and mineral resources in southern Utah to state control to allow development of coal, oil and uranium resources.  The bill would also open access to Recapture Canyon to motorized vehicles.

A good over-view of the area and proposals for protection are available at The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition web site.

Friday, July 15, 2016


Time to stop for a moment to think about things before jumping on a bandwagon.

That's my self-prescription in view of the outcome of the primaries.  Of course, that is not what the candidates and their machines are advising.  Included in the "machine" category is a large chunk of the media which would rather you view it as a news source.  For instance, I have become deeply distrustful of the NY Times which I used to rely on for much of my daily news.  First, the Times jumped early onto the Clinton bandwagon.  Now that she is the presumptive primary winner, the Times is featuring carefully calculated daily headlines to manage public opinion about the upcoming election.  Thankfully, Times columnist Paul Krugman has been able to switch off his disgraceful attacks on Sanders and has gone back to musing about economics, though he hasn't written anything interesting in that regard since the primaries.

Then there is also that endless stream of click-bait from the Huffington Post.  A columnist there recently declared Jill Stein the world's most powerful woman.  I like the Green Party leader; she's smart and principled, but come on!

Fortunately, there are alternatives.

In today's Guardian there is an excellent, thoughtful essay by Rebecca Solnit which provides some useful perspective on both recent events and even a much longer time frame of the history of social and political movements.

At the New Yorker Adam Gopnik has written an article entitled Being Honest About Trump which puts the Republican candidate into the proper historical perspective in refreshingly clear language.