Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Conspiracy Theory #158 or why WikiLeaks aren’t real leaks.

We can stop wailing and wringing our hands over the WikiLeaks of sensitive US government information. The leaks of diplomatic cables are clearly a CIA / NSA / DoD “truth in diplomacy” operation (code named: the rest of the world is a bunch of idiots).

Realistically how could a handful of savvy anti-US computer hackers break into and download secret government documents when foreign governments like the Red China, Russian, Iran, Syria, etal. with thousands of hackers at their disposal can’t? Or conversely, if they could they wouldn’t be able to for very long before being discovered and stopped. The top internet security people in the world work for us since we arrested them for hacking. And when the CIA has been whisking suspected terrorists off the streets of Europe and illegally shipping off to Egypt and/or Guantánamo why hasn’t that happened to the Wikileaks people? Or why haven’t they mysteriously disappeared never to return, died from some horrible disease that no one ever gets or simply had a bad accident? Obviously the WikiLeaks people had inside help and encouragement though they are probably unaware of it. It would be simple for the CIA / NSA / FBI / DoD to find an arrogant nutball dupe who hates the US and has some fatal flaw (sexual appetite?) to exploit like Julian Assange. Infiltrate his followers, plant the idea of cracking US computers and spillling the secrets in his head letting him think he thought of it, then let his arrogance take over. Help the cadre of hackers break in, show them where the documents are —all conveniently available—and sit back and watch the downloading begin. In the aftermath, his usefullness over Assange ends up in a Swedish prison where everyone forgets about him. Even if he figures out he was duped no one will care.

Why would the Obama administration allow the release of secret classififed files? Because when President Obama promised transparency he meant TRANSPARENCY! Open the lid on the secrets and let the American people see what’s really happening in the Middle East and elsewhere. When you dig through the documents the US just looks better and better. The leaks reveal that we know most of the world leaders we have to deal with are not world leader material. World leaders like most politicians are at best mentally unstable and at worst are monomaniacal psychopaths.

The leaks also show that the US takes the blame for a lot of stuff we’re not involved in. It turns out the bombings of terrorist camps in Yemen weren’t done by us but by the Yemeni government and they said we did it — with our approval — to take the heat off themselves. It also turns out that all the scary rhetoric about Iran isn’t about the US but the rest of the Middle East. Iran isn’t going to fire nuclear missiles at us (see my earlier blog about this). They want the capability so they can push the Saudis and others around. Even the anti-Israel rhetoric maybe a façade for Iran. The rest of the Middle East is scared and wants the US to drop the hammer on Iran because they are afraid to do it themselves. We don’t have any reason to bomb Iran into the stone age, our allies just expect us to do them another favor or did you really think the Iraq war was about terror attacks on the US? Now that this is out in the open the American taxpayers don’t have to pay for an anti-missile system to defend us from Iran. We can make the Saudis pay for it since they’re the ones who need it. Maybe Israel will help them out with building it too if the Saudis ask real nicely.

Yes there are names of US operatives in the WikiLeaks which Mr. Assange didn’t bother removing. I doubt that any American agents are in fear for their lives because of the leaks. Imagine a lot of people around the world waking up one morning to discover that a third of the folks they’ve been conspiring with are agents of the US. Might make you mess your pants depending upon what you said to them. Many of those folks are realizing that they didn’t sell their soul to whoever they thought they had. I wonder who’s idea this was? Leon Panetta (CIA), General Alexander (NSA) or Robert Gates (DoD)?

Where’s the proof of all this? One: a small group of hackers couldn’t get into sensitive government computers and download that much data without help and without getting very, very dead.

Two: In an attempt to stop the release of the WikiLeaks the State Dept. wrote a stern letter asking them to stop. A stern letter is something your high school principal sent to your parents when you goofed off in class one too many times. Is it at all possible that all the Navy Seal teams, Special Forces snipers, CIA hit-men and black-ops people are busy elsewhere?

Three: President Obama promised transparency. Could things be more transparent than this?

Four: The leaks reveal all the bad names our government call the heads of foreign governments. If we call him a few more bad names maybe Karzai will ask us to please leave Afghanistan immediately, thus getting our troops out ahead of schedule like the President promised. More name calling might solve even more problems.

Five: There was a memo from Secretary of State Clinton to others in the State department to gather info even from casual meetings with foreign government workers. That is ridiclous. The state dept. doesn’t hire nincompoops, its employees know to gather any and all info they can. It’s their job. Every diplomatic worker in the world knows this. Hillary doesn’t need to send out a memo to remind people. It is clearly a plant, something the Obama administration wanted revealed so the American people will know how hard the government is working. The message is “We trust no one and spy on everyone — friend or foe 24/7.”

Six: Revealing the real relationships between the US and the middle east is Obama’s way of saying: “Guys, we took the hit for you on 9-11. Now it’s your turn.” If Saudi Arabia and the other countries want to stop Iran we’ll help them, but they have to step up now and do the heavy lifting.

Seven: The US looks good in all this. It is obvious our foreign policy problems aren’t internal, they are the result of the mentally challenged crazies running the rest of the world.

The sum total result of WikiLeaks makes the US look good and the rest of the world look pathetic. Thank you President Obama for restoring our confidence.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

There are no Iranian missiles.

Conservatives have a problem in that they have evidently never met a missile defense system they didn‘t like. Part of the new Conservative “Pledge to America” is to build a system to defend us from ICBMs launched by Iran or North Korea. So the Republican conservatives are going to cut taxes, cut spending by a billion dollars and balance the budget while spending billions to build a missile defense system to protect us from a country that doesn’t have nuclear weapons or missiles. This means increasing the deficit as they have already done to wage two wars (conservatives have also never met a war they didn’t like) and causing increased inflation.

Economically this makes no sense whatsoever. And a new missile defense system makes no more sense than their previous missile defense system which President Obama pulled the funding from. It was meant to protect us and Eastern Europe from Russian ICBMs at a time when the US was trading with Russia and while Putin was using his government authority to line his pockets. The last thing the Russians would do is attack us or anybody else. They would lose money if they did. All that arms building and invading countries bankrupted Russia and led to the downfall of Communism. Yet conservatives can’t let go of the “red menace” even though you never hear about protecting us from Red Chinese ICBMs anymore. You don’t even hear the words red and China together anymore since China now owns so much of the US debt racked up by conservatives. So why do conservatives fear Russia and not China? Is it because big business likes the cheap labor in China? Or because they need a bogeyman and we can’t afford to get China mad at us?

The Republicans also claimed that the defense system would have worked against Iranian missiles which it wouldn’t have. A missile defense installation in Poland would protect us from Iranian missiles? No it wouldn’t have because the whole system was aimed at Russia and not anywhere else.

Instead of that system President Obama went with a naval based system of Aegis missiles along with the Patriot missile system which will work on Iranian missiles if there ever are any. Putin liked that so much he let us put some Aegis missile equipped ships in the Black Sea. So we have protection from Iran, North Korea and just about any other rogue state. And all for a fraction of the cost thereby making us all safer and saving us money.

The idea that Iran would build missiles to attack the US is even stupider. If they fired even one missile at America we would obliterate their country. And then take all their oil and gas. No, the Iranians want missiles that can reach Israel and Israel already has the Arrow missile defense system. In addition Israel won’t even let Iran build nuclear weapons or missiles to launch them. Israel has already said it would destroy such facilities. So we are doubly safe already.

So the question is: why spend billions of dollars on such a missile defense system? In all of the cost cutting conservatives have promised they have made it clear that they won’t cut defense spending and said: “When asked to provide our troops with the resources they need, we will do so without delay.” Meaning no debate and no questions asked. Who benefits from uncontrolled defense spending? Those in the military-industrial complex who will line their pockets with taxpayer dollars and build things we don’t need.

One of the last great Republican presidents, Dwight Eisenhower warned us about all this just before leaving office: “Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defense; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research -- these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

“But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs -- balance between the private and the public economy, balance between cost and hoped for advantage -- balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable; balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual; balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future.”

He also warned citizens about the dangers of the influence of the military-industrial complex which conservatives are planning on throwing money at without question.

“This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence -- economic, political, even spiritual -- is felt in every city, every State house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the militaryindustrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”

Friday, June 18, 2010


I've been telling people that I'm hibernating; actually I've been working in the garage preparing to start painting again. I started painting seriously when I was fifteen and did it continuously up until the late 1980s. I didn't really intend to stop, we bought a house and I didn't have studio space. Eventually my teaching duties took up more time and energy and I never got around to seriously looking for space. Since going to Wyoming to help my brother hang an exhibition of his work (photos here) I've been energized about making art again. A cursory search for studio space near home has been fruitless. There isn't much in the way of suitable non-commercial space at anything like a reasonable price. There is studio space in Chicago and some in Evanston, but I want something closer to home so I don't have an excuse to not paint. So I decided to paint in the garage while I kept looking for something.

This is the easel I built mostly out of standard 2x4s. Originally I was going to mount it directly on the garage wall but it was a very hot day when it came to drilling holes in the cement black so I added two legs so it could lean against the wall. I also mounted wheels — non-rotating — so I could move it around some. It can hold work up to 7 feet high and whatever width.

This is the first stretcher 5 x 5 feet, 2.5 in. deep, solid poplar and despite all the hassles I've had building it better and cheaper than anything available. It's heavy since it is only one part of the entire work. There will be other parts that mount to it so it is the main load bearing element. It could be a little lighter in construction and weight but I didn't want to make a light one and find out it was too light. Although making it lighter might require renting a table saw. Standard lumbar sizes are based on on the lumber but on wall thickness so the 1 x 3 in. boards are actually 0.71 x 2.5 in. as is the bracing. It really needs some true 2 in. stock but I haven't found any so may have to make it myself.

I've also been buying a lot of paint, some new brushes, and have organized a work area in the garage so I can still park the cars in it at night as they don't allow overnight street parking here. Next stop is sanding it then stretching and gessoing the canvas which I hope to get done today except it has turned out to be another hot one so I may wait for a cooler day or try to do it in the evening. More later once the painting starts.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sketching Creativity

One of the primary ways to enhance creativity is by sketching. This seems simple, too simple to work, but it is very effective. However it isn’t the sketching itself that enhances creativity, it’s the looking, the seeing. When you sketch you are forced to really look at things in more detail, to take note of them. In everyday life people don’t do this, they don’t recognize details in the world around them unless forced to. Sketching forces you to pay attention to details you otherwise would skip over visually.

But what if you can’t draw? Over the years many people have said to me that they didn’t understand art and design and they couldn’t draw. Yet they can draw, anyone can. Drawing is not very different from driving a car, they both rely on eye-hand coordination. Steering a car is much the same as pushing a pencil around on a piece of paper. I used to tell my students that once they learned how draw really well, they could draw using a pickup truck and a wheat field. And learning to draw really well just required practice like learning to drive a car. Like drawing and sketching driving requires a different form of seeing. We call it “paying attention” meaning paying attention to details. In driving the details are dynamic but this has less effect that one would think. Like creativity sketching and drawing would make one a more capable driver.

Anyone who wants to draw just has to practice it over and over. Put a vase of flowers on a table and draw it every day. Eventually you will be very good at it. You’re developing your eye-hand coordination. Your eye sees the vase and your mind sends information to the hand which puts lines on paper, then the eye provides feedback so you can compare the vase of flowers with your drawing of it. The feedback information goes to the hand continuing the process. For artists and designers this is a much easier process, they learn it much faster and with less work. This is mainly because they can already see in the necessary way, they don’t have to learn that. They also possess one other skill that the average person doesn’t have. If you take away the vase of flowers they can still draw it. This is because they can see it in their mind, they are able to visualize it.

This skill extends out allowing them to see and draw things that aren’t there. This is the key to their creativity. Instead of direct eye-hand drawing from a subject artists and designers use a mind-hand-eye drawing. The feedback from the eye compares the image already in the mind with the image they see and the mind sends the information to the hand. The ability to see like this is the creative part, not the drawing or sketching. The sculptor Richard Serra once said something to the effect that you climb a mountain because it’s there and you make a work of art because it isn’t there. And the way you enhance that creativity to to look for what isn’t there. Sketching helps by providing a record for contemplation, but sometimes just visualizing works better because one tends to visualize what isn’t there along with what is.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Maps and email and iPods oh my.

Yesterday I was thinking about maps. The day before I skimmed an article blaming email, texting, etc. for the decline of the art of conversation. Which led me to think about Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes.

Many months back curmudgeonly Andy was complaining about iPods and how they isolated people from one another. That was when I knew he didn’t get it. When we moved to the suburbs I started commuting downtown on the train. It was the second or third day I realized I had to get an iPod. First there was the inevitable person discussing their medical problems in messy detail, then a guy negotiating a home loan along with the usual daily chatter between passengers. I didn’t want to hear any of it. I wanted the iPod in order to isolate myself from it. The fact I could choose my own playlist made it even better. Plus for the first time I could walk across the Loop not listening to a lot of noise and completely ignoring all sorts of people, especially panhandlers. Interaction with people around me was the last thing I wanted. Isolation was good, it allowed me to think with relatively few disturbances. And that I think is the key. I was able to shut out a lot of disturbances; my boundaries were under my control.

I use email most of the time, and I prefer it over calling people on the phone. I don’t like using the phone since I’m talking to someone without being able to read their facial expressions which is important in a conversation. Email also induces succinctness in communication. It is far easier to email a coworker in their office than to walk down to their office and have a chat. In an email you can drop the chat — How do you like the weather? Have you heard this joke? — and get to the point. It isn’t a loss of civility since you can chat with them when you see them. ln fact most of my conversations with coworkers took place in hallways or elevators rather than an office. We also got a lot of work done in those hallway conversations, sometimes more than we did in committee meetings.

Email also made counseling students much more efficient. Frequently students would email me for an appointment and I would reply by asking them to email me their info. One foreign student I counseled during his whole time at college without meeting him until he came by my office to thank me as he was graduating. Most students had similar concerns and problems and it wasn’t necessary to waste time talking to them in person, or delaying things by making an appointment when I could generally solve whatever difficulties almost immediately. Some students did take advantage of this by emailing me for help or advice at odd hours, but I didn’t mind. After all the internet is open all day, every day, everywhere so it wasn’t really an imposition.

The internet has changed things by eliminating distance as a barrier. It no longer matters where anyone is if they can email. And time is virtually meaningless because the internet is always on everywhere your 10 am is someone else’s 10 pm. More importantly the internet has reorganized the world forcing users to reorganize their thinking. Andy Rooney hasn’t done that and probably won’t unless he has to. Which brings me back to maps. Early maps were drawings of what people thought things looked like. Later systems of subdividing maps into grids made them more accurate and usable. It is imposing a geometric system on an organic form which can be useful. Road maps work because you can use grid references to find various places. Except more and more people aren’t using those maps, they’re using Mapquest or Google Maps or something else on the internet. Those maps don’t need grid lines. The software finds places for you and then shows you how to get there. If you’re interested, and there are photos, you can see the exact place you’re looking for and the terrain, roads, traffic, etc as well. It is useful to zoom in on an intersection and determine whether you have to turn left or right to access the highway and which side of the overpass it is on. You can also scan up and down streets looking for visual landmarks. Grid lines are useless because we have gone back to accessing the information organically and more directly.

The only thing I haven’t been able to do is see what equipment is being used to take the pictures. I’ve tried catching its reflection in store fronts but it apparently doesn’t have one, and it can’t look at itself. Since it’s being done with declassified government hardware maybe there is no “it” to see.

So are we isolating ourselves? Only when we want to or need to. Are we losing the art of conversation? No, we’re merely skipping most of the meaningless chit-chat. We have begun to think in a new way in which we are able to ignore or create boundaries between ourselves and everyone else. Anything that happens in the world, big or small, important or meaningless, you can ignore it or be part of it and meet everyone else who is part of it regardless of where or who they are. And you can see people face to face and talk to them in real time if you want. Or not.

Monday, January 18, 2010

I can't find the marmalade!

I have some untypical tastes which is actually something of a family trait. For example my mother was a fan of Prince, jazz and various kinds of World music. She also ate butter. Not just on toast but with a fork. Family members tend to be very individual with different predilections. One of mine is lime marmalade.

Many years ago I had some Dundee Lime Marmalade and loved it. I have been eating lime marmalade ever since when I could get it. Lately I can’t get it at all. Apparently the only company still making it is Roses in England, but it is almost impossible to find in the stores. One store nearby carries it but only carry the key lime version not the regular lime. There used to be several English companies that made lime marmalade like Dundee, Robertson’s, Wilkin & Sons and a few others, but they all seem to have stopped making it or at least importing it to the U. S. A very few gourmet companies produce lime marmalade at ridiculous prices and someone told me of a place in Galena that has it.

When it comes to lime marmalade I understand there isn’t a lot of call for it, but in light of what stores do carry I don’t understand why. Besides the obvious preserves like grape jelly there are some odd ones like gooseberry marmalade for instance. I had some once and it was like eating soap with sugar. Someone must like it though because it is available in most stores. Then there is jalapeno. It is readily available in most of the stores in the area. Are there really more people in the world who eat jalapeno marmalade than lime? If so I want their names because I really don’t believe it. There are some things I have found during my for lime like ginger, rhubarb, pineapple, bramble — I assume there are some kind of berries on bramble otherwise ouch — pomegranate, peach & lavender, quince, green tomato (?), carrot (??), coconut, onion, chipotle marmalade and something called yuzu marmalade. But not lime. There are all kinds of orange marmalades including Seville orange, thick cut orange, golden shred, shredless, oxford (Seville oranges) , vintage oxford, fine cut oxford, tawny orange, orange and tangerine, blood orange, dark navy orange, no peel orange, mandarin orange and orange combined with just about everything else except rhubarb.

So now I am searching for recipes for marmalade though this may end up like the search for good espresso or wine — you may have to be fanatical about your limes, what kind they are, where they come from, what the soil and climate are like, when they were picked, etc. Imagine a connoisseur sitting at a table full of limes saying: “And this is a 2009 Persian lime from the Chateau Linden personally picked for me by Monsieur Bob.” That won’t be me. Instead I will be the guy sitting next to him eating the lime marmalade.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

I don't like it.

There are always ads on my facebook page with pictures of young women. This time it is an ad for joint pain relief showing a young women with very large breasts. Usually there is an ad that says "Guess who's been looking for you?" with a picture of a similar young woman. No one is looking for me (the currency violation thing in Chile got cleared up), and I suspect the only reason people (read "guys") click on the ads is to see a larger picture of the woman — and of course her breasts. Is internet advertising only working by relying on sex to attract people? Is that what Google's empire is built on? And why would an ad for joint pain relief use a picture of a young person who has never experienced joint pain instead of an older person who actually has joint pain? I don't really care, I just find it annoying that this shows up on my facebook page. It's gratuitous pandering and I don't like it. Guess I've become a curmudgeon.

And if the pessimist in you thinks I mentioned this so you would go look at my facebook page, don't go look. Really.