Where do old blogs go to die?

Why did this blog stop so suddenly? Where did its writers go? Were they trapped behind a dense hedge of thorns for 100 years waiting to be rescued by a hot princess (with an ass like Pippa’s) who would rouse them from their writer’s block? Or maybe they were just having a little lie down….

Maps – A New Perspective

Maps have always fascinated me. My first book was an atlas and, like many others I am sure, I spent hours pouring over it deciding which countries I would visit when I was old enough to subject myself to the indignities of airport security.

My atlas had three different views of each country. One showing the various industries and raw materials (including whales) available. Another showing your standard mountains and crinkly bits. And a last one illustrating the wildlife (including, once again, whales).

But it had something in common with all atlases, it focussed on the land.

Which is why I found this projection, by cartographer Jack Van Wijk so fascinating.

Van Wijk uses a process he has dubbed “Myriahedral Projection” which divides the globe’s surface into small polygons that are unfolded into a flat map, just as a cube can be unfolded into six squares.

Finding this startling new way to look at our planet earned Van Wijk the Henry Johns Award from The British Cartographic Society.

Well played Sir…

Freedom to depress

So there I was, scratching around the web looking for a little perspective on how the hell our expectations of journalists fell so far that Glenn Beck gets to use the same job description that Walter Cronkite used on his tax returns, without getting sued for defaming the entire profession.  My guess is, half the population don’t notice and other half don’t give a shit.

I used to think it was pretty cool that Comedy Central were doing their bit in the name of journalism. And, to be fair, Jon Stewart’s beatdown of Tucker Carlson on CNN’s now deservedly-extinct Crossfire was pretty badass. But really, once you think about it, it’s just another reason to hop on a barstool and stop thinking about it.

Fair and balanced?

How did we get here? In lieu of mine own hazy ponderings, enter Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Giving the 2009 Stuart Bullion Memorial Lecture in Journalism, Chris tells it like it is…

We live in an age of moral nihilism. We have trashed our universities, turning them into vocational factories that produce corporate drones and chase after defense-related grants and funding. The humanities, the discipline that forces us to stand back and ask the broad moral questions of meaning and purpose, that challenges the validity of structures, that trains us to be self-reflective and critical of all cultural assumptions, have withered. And this assault has been a body blow to a free press, which is, like the humanities, designed to promote intellectual and moral questioning.

But don’t worry, there’s still plenty of cake!

We are cleverly entertained during our descent. We have our own version of ancient Rome’s bread and circuses with our ubiquitous and elaborate spectacles, sporting events, celebrity gossip and television reality shows. Societies in decline, as the Roman philosopher Cicero wrote, see their emotional and political passions subsumed by the excitement and emotional life of the arena.

*sigh*

Hollywood and Booze – The Good Old Days

We have often poked fun at the modern hysteria surrounding the use of alcohol here at The Notes.

I can’t remember the last time I read or watched a news story involving booze which didn’t also include some overly simplistic moral subtext wagging a disapproving finger at our inability to be anything other than reckless, impulsive infants while under the influence. And while I’d love to write a screenplay which involves an adult, and comical, relationship with the bottle I can’t see the possibility of any modern television or film production doing so without feeling it also has to show the consequences. Consequences which, in our modern cultural climate, could only be portrayed as bad.

Which is why I’d have loved to have been writing in an era when booze was celebrated in the way it was in The Thin Man series. Great gags. Fabulous on-screen chemistry between William Powell and Myrna Loy. And, boy, did they sink a few…

The “War on Terror” – A Fresh Approach

Having been up to my eyeballs in work I’ve had less time than usual and have yet to finish reading the entirety of General Petraeus’ statement before the Senate Armed Forces Committee which he made on 16th March. Subtitled, The Posture of U.S. Central Command, I was principally reading it for insight on current strategy in Afghanistan and the “War on Terror” as I work on another look at the country and the nature of the conflict in the wider region.

A couple of things struck me at first, and I’ll leave the rest of the report until I have time to address it much more fully, but in his introduction Petraeus makes this observation on U.S. interests and “the Most Significant Threats to Them”

Because of the CENTCOM AOR’s (Area of Responsibility) geography, control of much of the world’s energy reserves, and propensity for instability, the United States has substantial strategic interests in, and related to, the region.  Chief among these are:

1. The security of U.S. citizens and the U.S. homeland.

2. Regional stability.

3. International access to strategic resources, critical infrastructure, and markets.

4. The promotion of human rights, the rule of law, responsible and effective governance, and broad-based economic growth and opportunity.

Strategic resources, of course, means oil but it’s rather refreshing to hear someone in charge openly talk about its strategic importance instead of mumbling about “freedom”. That’s not to say there aren’t things of concern for me in his statement. Merely as a start you could highlight at the first three of his points above and observe how those interests can negatively impact the fourth and have done for some time.

As an example, Petraeus observes in the section dealing with Afghanistan that…

The Taliban have been resilient, with their activities fueled by revenues from outside the region as well as from narcotics-trafficking… This drug money has been the  “oxygen” in the air that allows these groups to operate.  With the extension of authority granted to U.S. forces to conduct counter-narcotics operations, we are able to more closely work with the Afghan government to disrupt the illicit narcotics industry though interdiction of the narco-trafficking network.

Presumably the “authority” granted to the U.S. forces has been given by President Karzai’s administration with, perhaps, the expert advice of Karzai’s half-brother Ahmed Wali Karzai who is rumoured to have accumulated his fortune and power through that self same “oxygen”. It is a complex and convoluted world.

And one which the average American citizen, informed by a media who serve news as fast food rather than nourishment, could hardly be expected to follow with any accuracy. And perhaps this is why, when given the opportunity to contribute to fighting the “War on Terror”, they have a slightly skewed expectation of what can be achieved.

The U.S. Defense Department, in their wisdom, became aware they have a vast resource unavailable to the “Enemy”. The collective power of the American People™. The Pentagon, therefore, has allowed visitors at their website to provide feedback and give suggestions. Here are my favourites…

Would there be time to construct a Noah’s Ark Biosphere in North America if there is an emerging Global War starting in the Middle East? I don’t know … I only know that I have worked on such a project for many years now… The problem is it takes a lot of resources to build a modern day Noah’s Ark … and lots of planning and development.

Who better to suggest it to, than the U.S. Defense Department? They’ve spent far more money on far sillier things before now. The Men Who Stare at Goats, anyone?

Other contributors are keener on bravely revealing the darker work going on behind the scenes…

Has anyone at the Department of Defense noticed that the Twin Towers were destroyed on 9/11, and that when you dial emergency services in the USA you dial 911? If so, is this merely a coincidence?

An interesting point, well made.

Others are less suspicious of their country’s military, however, and rather keen to find out more…

So do you have any top scret information you would to like to tell me? i am doing a project for my senior economics class, and was just wondering…email me back.

I wonder what he found out. More importantly, I wonder what happens to the world when he, and the rest of his “senior economics class”, ends up working in the world’s banks. More of the same, perhaps…

But I will leave you with my hands down favourite. A fresh approach to the “War on Terror” that could change everything. And what I particularly admire, is this keen amateur military genius does not presume success is easy.

No. He anticipates the possibility there may be some snag in his plan. He identifies that one potential flaw and suggests not one, but two, excellent solutions…

Bears have scent detection that is far superior to bloodhounds! Trained bears with GPS and day/night cameras around their necks might be able to hunt down the scent of Usama Bin Laden, even in and through any caves and tunnels!!! Overnight, Parachute some bears into areas UBL might be.

Attempt to train bears to take off parachutes after landing, or use parachutes that self-destruct.

America, Fuck yeah!

The joys of home rentership

More cheery financial news spotted in this morning’s LA Times:

Nearly one-quarter of U.S. mortgages, or about 11 million loans, are “underwater,” i.e. the houses are worth less than the balance of their loans. While home values are regaining ground — median prices rose 10% in Southern California last month to $275,000 compared with a year earlier — they remain far below the July 2007 peak of $505,000.

Now, I may just be a grizzled old bugger with a liver like a cricket ball, and I’m not what you’d call a…a … (whaddayacall those guys on Wall Street? Not thieving bastards, the other one…) economist. I’m no economist, but it looks to me like my being too half-arsed to get into the red-hot jump-right-in-it’s-awesome property market back in 2007 has paid off to the tune of around two hundred and thirty grand.

I’ll take it in fifties, thanks.

Nearly one-quarter of U.S. mortgages, or about 11 million loans, are “underwater,” i.e. the houses are worth less than the balance of their loans. While home values are regaining ground — median prices rose 10% in Southern California last month to $275,000 compared with a year earlier — they remain far below the July 2007 peak of $505,000.

Electile dysfunction

I was surprised to find this gem buried in the opinion section of the The Onion instead of the front page where it belongs. I’d find it a lot funnier if I wasn’t reminded just how much truth lies behind it every time I turn on the TV.

My Constituents Care Way More About Political Gamesmanship Than Jobs, Health Care, And The Economy by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH).

Among the gems:

My constituents deserve better… They deserve someone on their side who will ask the tough questions, such as how will painting Democrats as radical ideologues play in, say, Arkansas? Can we vote “no” on the health care bill and still make it look like we give two craps about the welfare of ordinary Americans?

But wait, there’s more!

My constituents had to be proud. They must have loved the way I blatantly ignored the truth and put quotation marks around “stimulus” so as to delegitimize the whole project. And I bet they noticed that, with just one sentence, I slyly preyed on America’s inherent distrust of big government. Pretty good, huh? It’s all bullshit of course, but it’s a great political play.

And finally…

More than anything, average, workaday Ohioans want me to play politics at the shrewdest, most despicable level, not to waste their time making surgery affordable or offering tax breaks to small businesses. And my constituents are so thankful that I took a nation that was actually hopeful at the beginning of 2009 and turned it into a paranoid, demoralized country unsure of whether it made the right choice in 2008.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.