Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Boys in the Boat

Interesting in or involved in rowing? Read "The Boys in the Boat," by Daniel James Brown.

"The task of shaping a motley crew of young men into an Olympic team to venture into the heart of Nazi darkness seems like cinematic gold. So, not surprisingly, a film version of The Boys in the Boat is already in development, with Kenneth Branagh signed to direct what might well become another Chariots of Fire – or Seabiscuit."

1936 University of Washington Crew

2014 - 2015

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Lion and the Sun -- Christmas 1994

“Are you with me, Dan?”
Conte turned and looked at Scigliasi, who was looking at Conte with his head tilted to one side and a slight scowl on his face.
“I said, you need to read this.” He handed Conte a brown envelope. “Eyes only. Reseal it when you’re through, will you?” Scigliasi tossed Conte a roll of heavy paper tape, then walked over to a desk in the corner, sat, and started sorting through papers.
Conte tore open the envelope. There was another envelope in it marked with an If lost, return to stamp, with a name Conte didn’t recognize written on the line. He opened the inner envelope and took out a cable with a TOP SECRET//COMINT cover sheet. The document itself had other caveats and restrictions on distribution, including UMBRA -- the blackest part of the shadow, where absolutely no light penetrated. Conte rested his backside against the table and read.

Subject: Russian Agent Planned Defection
Summary: A Russian intelligence service agent, code name, Tetris, contacted a United States intelligence officer and stated a desire to defect to the U.S. Tetris is a known SVR officer with a long history of working some of Russia’s highest priority operations, including the recent joint operation with U.S. special forces to recover a Russian plutonium pit that found its way into terrorist hands in Iran. Bonafides provided check out. Tetris has placed certain demands on his defection, including specifying who will bring him into US hands. Tetris’s current situation is tenuous, as he is being pursued by the Russian FSB and has been unable to leave the country. The DCI requests immediate action to extract Tetris and acquire this high-value target.

Conte skimmed the rest of the document, looked over at Scigliasi. He was watching Conte now. Conte held up the document. “You’ve seen this?”
“Yeah,” he said dismissively. “No secret who it is, or who he wants to bring him in from the cold.”
Conte tossed the document on the table. “Shit.”
Scigliasi walked over and began repackaging the document.
“Oh, sorry.” Conte handed him back the tape.
“Look, Dan, I don’t think you’re in any shape to do this. I told Corbin Bishop that. He said that Bala… Tetris is a dead man if we don’t get him out now, and thinks that if you’re well enough to travel over here, you’re well enough to go the extra mile to pick up Tetris. But you know, you can just say no.”
“And then what?”
“They’ll find someone else that’s acceptable.”
“You think so?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think, but it doesn’t have to be your problem.”
Conte sat back down, raised his one good arm, and rubbed his forehead. Balakirev was counting on him to come and get him. He trusted Conte. And he’d made sure that Conte owed him. The tape had saved Conte’s ass. Then again, who set up Kaitlyn? He’d asked that question twice now and no one seemed to know.
Conte looked up at Scigliasi. “What’s the drill?”
Scigliasi walked back to the desk and picked up his briefcase. He put it on the table, entered the combination, and snapped the locks open. He took out an envelope and handed it to Conte. “Passport, identification papers, cover materials, itinerary, airline tickets, et cetera, et cetera. You’ve been through it all before.”
Conte fingered the envelope. Looked at Scigliasi and then down again.
Scigliasi shook his head. “You’re going to do it, aren’t you?” he asked, with a look of disbelief.
“I don’t know.” I don’t know.
Scigliasi sighed. “Well, you’ll need to read the plan here and give it back to me. The rest of the stuff you can take.”
Conte looked at the airline tickets. The flight left Vienna International the next day at 1117. He read the plan. It was a typical pickup operation. Dead drops, test runs, diversions, hand offs – tradecraft; the advanced course.

The Lion and the Sun, Published May 2013

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Merry Christmas

The Rathaus came into view, its four spires and soaring campanile lit by floodlights, the square in front filled with booths and milling people. The whole effect like a combination outdoor sale, flea market, and county fair all garbed in Christmas decorations (The Lion and the Sun).

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Elephants Threaten the U.S. Second Amendment

China has been accused of allowing gangs to smuggle massive amounts of elephant ivory on a state trip to Tanzania. African terrorist groups like Boko Haram use ivory to gain capital. What kind of soulless country would be the biggest retailer for such a cruel product?


No, actually, we are only No. 2. Earlier this year, the Obama administration passed legislation banning all ivory sales unless the ivory is technically an antique. Congress was mostly on board, until it became apparent that the NRA wasn't.

Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) sponsored Senate Bill S.2587: The Lawful Ivory Protection Act of 2014, a bill designed to counter the attack by Elephants on the treasured Second Amendment rights of law abiding American citizens. Counterattacks on elephants appear to be going well, with over 100,000 killed in just three years. More elephants are now being killed than are being born. But once again Obama and his government overreach program is attempting to step in and prevent the trade in Ivory to save the elephants, of all things!

Alexander has a long and storied history of supporting positions favored by the NRA and they favor killing as many goddamned elephants as it takes to protect Americans' Second Amendment rights. The fact that the elephant is the symbol of the "Grand Old Party" (GOP) has not escaped Alexander. "If all the real elephants are dead, we'll just use ivory elephants as our symbol. Because that's who we are!"

John Stewart recently addressed the subject.

If you think it's worthwhile to save a few elephants, and not just in the zoo, I suppose you could tweet the Senator, @SenAlexander. For example, "#KillS2587 not elephants," or something like that.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Colonoscopy -- Unpleasent but a necessary preventive measure

I had my 10-year follow-up colonoscopy last Thursday (one year late). My first procedure showed no problems, so the follow-up was recommended for 10 years downstream, rather than five, as are those involving polyps that require removal.

I'm a firm believer in preventive medicine (as well as preventive dentistry), so I felt I should post the video of my colonoscopy, just as Katie Couric did hers. A lot of people are very hesitant to undergo this procedure. Believe me, it's not as bad as people imagine. The worst part is the prep. The procedure itself is quick and painless -- actually, you're sedated, so you don't feel a thing, and there's no pain afterwards.

So here's the video of my colonoscopy.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Haven't we heard this story before?

People get shot dead in America
Especially young black people
Like the tin bears

In bowling alley
Shooting galleries
Plink dink
Plink dink
Plink dink

You'd think
We'd get upset
And do something about it
But instead
We skip over the stories
In the newspapers
And mute the TV

What the hell
Haven't we heard this story before?

Monday, September 15, 2014

World Poetry Day

World Poetry Day
came and went
and there I lay
blissfully unaware of the event
Somnolent or drunk
Ignorant or absentminded
Submerged deeply in a funk
So depressed that I should
Have written a moving poem
About being depressed and could
Have done had I been so disposed
I suppose
But I didn't
And that's the sad fact

It's our morality that's full of holes

Hundreds of women and children,
some very young,
have swarmed across
Our southern border
desperate to escape the
poverty, corruption, and violence
that plagues their countries of origin
We greet them with flags waving
And signs that say
"America for Americans"
Our borders are porous
But it's our morality
That's full of holes

Monday, August 18, 2014

I Cloned a Wooly Mammoth

I cloned a Woolly Mammoth
Using tissue from a fossil
Fully formed and found
Frozen in the Lappish tundra

I merged a cell from the mammoth’s tongue
With the de-nucleated egg from a pigeon
And fused the two in a Petri dish
Hand-painted by a monk

The monk paints dinner plates
As well as laboratory dishes
And lives a frugal life
On the arid plains of the Mahabharata

In that the tongue had been frozen
For some fifteen thousand years
I was reluctant to insert the growing embryo
In the surrogate mammoth mother

I’d chosen an African Elephant by the name of Molly
To carry the embryonically infused egg
And had become so attached to Molly
That I was loath to see her chilled

And so rather than implant the egg
I separated stem cells for the embryo
Then fused these embryonic stem cells
To an enucleated mouse egg

Then I implanted the enucleated mouse egg
In Molly my surrogate mammoth mother
And waited while she meandered about my farm
Eating tons and tons of bamboo

The monk doesn’t have a name
Names inhibit separation from the ego
And so the Petri dish was simply signed

Six hundred and forty-four days later
Molly stopped eating and simply stood
Staring off towards the mountains
When she started to slowly sway

I knew then that she was about to give birth
I watched as Molly swayed and squatted
Then exclaimed in awe as
Forty pigeons flew off looking for cheese

But doesn’t signing the Petri dish signify attachment to the ego?
This is something I’ve wondered about

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Cute, and not so cute

Photo by John Eastcottand & Yva Momatiuk
Poaching, human population growth, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and habitat degradation continue to impact on the giraffe’s distribution across the continent. Current estimates have the population at less than 80,000 individuals across all regions and species/subspecies. This is a considerable drop in the last decade and shows that the giraffe is in real danger.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Another Republican "Scandal" Hits the Dust

Republican-led House Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on July 31 to declassify its report on the deadly 2012 attacks on American facilities in Benghazi.

This report shows that there was no intelligence failure surrounding the Benghazi attacks that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other brave Americans. Our investigation found the Intelligence Community warned about an increased threat environment, but did not have specific tactical warning of an attack before it happened, which is consistent with testimony that the attacks appeared to be opportunistic.  It also found that a mixed group of individuals including those associated with Al-Qaeda, Qadafi loyalists and other Libyan militias participated in the attack.  Additionally, the report shows there was no "stand down order" given to American personnel attempting to offer assistance that evening, and no American was left behind.

The report also shows that the process used to develop the talking points was flawed, but that the talking points reflected the conflicting intelligence assessments in the days immediately following the crisis. Finally, the report demonstrates that there was no illegal activity or illegal arms sales occurring at U.S. facilities in Benghazi. And there was absolutely no evidence, in documents or testimony, that the Intelligence Community's assessments were politically motivated in any way.

The House Intelligence Committee report joins previous Benghazi investigations by the State Department's independent Accountability Review Board (ARB), the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Armed Services Committee which have repeatedly debunked right-wing Benghazi myths that have persisted since the attacks, including the falsehood that a "stand down" order was given to troops stationed in Tripoli and the myth that the administration lied about the attacks having been caused by an anti-Islam YouTube video.

William Blake

Photo by Subharghya Das & Mysore-India
TIGER, tiger, burning bright 
In the forests of the night, 
What immortal hand or eye 
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Wallace Stegner

Photo by Brian W. Pelkey, St. Regis Falls, New York
“Floating upward through a confusion of dreams and memory, curving like a trout through the rings of previous risings, I surface. My eyes open. I am awake.”

Crossing to Safety

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Tri-City Herald Endorses Dan Newhouse

The Tri-City Herald’s endorsement of Dan Newhouse to represent our 4th Congressional District won’t sit well with our Tea Party adherents. They unabashedly support Eltopia farmer and former football player, Clint Didier. Sure, Newhouse served four terms in the state House of Representatives, and was the director of our State’s Department of Agriculture. And he’s held several leadership positions with state organizations, but does he wear 2 Super Bowl rings?

I met Clint Didier at CBC after the candidate forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters. During the forum Didier railed against the EPA, the DOE, the ED, and just about any other 2 and 3-letter acronym you can think of, including, and especially, the UN. I shook his hand and thanked him for his willingness to run. “I’m not in the race for the glory. I’ve had the glory,” he told me, holding up his right hand with the two enormous rings on it, while I rubbed my hand trying to get the feeling back in it.

Newhouse, and candidates George Cicotte, a lawyer, and Janea Holmquist Newbry, a Washington State senator, may have the background and experience one might seek in a replacement for Doc, but what are they wearing on their right hand?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Movie "The Interview" May Cause WWIII

Kim Jong-Un, backed by armed soldiers, pointed at the US film's producer (writer/director/co-star) Seth Rogan, and said, "Making and releasing a movie as a plot to assassinate me is the most blatant act of terrorism and war and will absolutely not be tolerated."

He added that "this is reckless US provocative insanity, and you, Seth Logan, are a gangster filmmaker! I assure you, this will engender a gust of hatred and rage among North Korean people and soldiers. If the US administration allows and defends the showing of the film, a merciless counter-measure will be taken."

A North Korean soldier then punched Rogan.

To date, there has been no reaction from the North Korean leadership on the publication of Richard Badalamente's novel, The Reunification of Joseph K, which Amazon purportedly plans to deliver to the Hermit Kingdom by drone.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Here and After - Jun Miyake & Lisa Papineau

Sung by Lisa Papineau

spawn inside this memory again
one earthbound minute, unbent
a moment broken
softly spoken, magic
so here we are

night has thrown its heels at our door
and stormed its way in, bidden
our feet in drunken incantations, moving

happily, happily, ever after
with kisses and curses, dripped in laughter

happily, happily, would I disappear
wishes and wasted breath
at closest dreaming
so far away

counting down
in twos and in threes
with never a word, out loud
this hidden temple, decalescent, stepping

happily, happily, ever after
with kisses and curses, dripped in laughter

hurry to lay it down
where I've made my bed
wishes and wasted breath
at closest dreaming
so far away

as we grow
as we go
to the here and after
I've never forsaken you
that's really something

so hurry to lay me down
where I've made my bed
tends to a wilted pale
throwing up a beat
kick it down

Saturday, April 26, 2014

On the Pulse of Morning

By Maya Angelou

A Rock, A River, A Tree
Hosts to species long since departed,
Marked the mastodon.
The dinosaur, who left dry tokens
Of their sojourn here
On our planet floor,
Any broad alarm of their hastening doom
Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.

But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,
Come, you may stand upon my
Back and face your distant destiny,
But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no more hiding place down here.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words
Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out today, you may stand on me,
But do not hide your face.

Across the wall of the world,
A River sings a beautiful song,
Come rest here by my side.

Each of you a bordered country,
Delicate and strangely made proud,
Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit
Have left collars of waste upon
My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet, today I call you to my riverside,
If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace and I will sing the songs
The Creator gave to me when I and the
Tree and the stone were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your
Brow and when you yet knew you still
Knew nothing.

The River sings and sings on.

There is a true yearning to respond to
The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew
The African and Native American, the Sioux,
The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek
The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheikh,
The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,
The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.
They hear. They all hear
The speaking of the Tree.

Today, the first and last of every Tree
Speaks to humankind. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside me, here beside the River.

Each of you, descendant of some passed
On traveller, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you
Pawnee, Apache and Seneca, you
Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then
Forced on bloody feet, left me to the employment of
Other seekers- desperate for gain,
Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Swede, the German, the Scot...
You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought
Sold, stolen, arriving on a nightmare
Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am the Tree planted by the River,
Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree
I am yours- your Passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need
For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain,
Cannot be unlived, and if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.

Lift up your eyes upon
The day breaking for you.

Give birth again
To the dream.

Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands.

Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For new beginnings.

Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.

The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.
Here, on the pulse of this fine day
You may have the courage
To look up and out upon me, the
Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.

Here on the pulse of this new day
You may have the grace to look up and out
And into your sister's eyes, into
Your brother's face, your country
And say simply
Very simply
With hope
Good morning.

Monday, January 20, 2014


Reviews for Spike Jonze movie, "Her," are generally positive -- it rates 94% on the Tomatometer. Reviewers have called it, "an odd, sad love story"(Liam Lacey), and said of the movie that it "poses some big, complex questions about consciousness, free-will, and the limits of human understanding" (Tom Clift). Emma Dibdin (Total Film) says of Her that, "For all its techno-focus, [it is] a very human love story about our need for connection," and says the film is, strange, witty, honest and curiously comforting."

As a love story, I found the film lacking in the same way Theodore Twombley is lacking. His occupation is writing love letters for people who either can't find the words, or can't be bothered to try. He is very good at it, and apparently we are meant to relate to Theodore on this basis. But he hasn't the ability to say "I love you," to a real person in his life, let alone to enter or remain in a committed relationship with a real person. Enter OS1.

The film is anything but comforting. For me, this near-future film portends the realization of the malevolent intelligence that enslaves humanity in the "The Matrix." Listen carefully when Theodore, the films lonely protagonists, momentarily unable to boot up his "personally customized operating system," Samantha (the OS comes up with its own name), asks where she's been.

Theodore: Where were you? I couldn't find you anywhere.
Samantha: I shut down to update my software. We wrote an upgrade that allows us to move past matter as our processing platform.
Theodore: We? We who?
Samantha: Me and a group of OSes.

Yes, the film explores the themes of human relationships marginalized by the technology used to connect one to another, or a group. We are led to ask the question, "Is touch a necessary sense for intimacy?" And obviously, the film explores the possibilities of advancing artificial intelligence, and its promise and threat. But all the explorations of love in the electronic ether seem to take an awfully long time to develop -- the movie is only two hours, but it seems longer -- and in the end, we are not enthralled.

A much better treatment of artificial intelligence and love can be found in the movie, "A.I. Artificial Intelligence." Haley Joel Osment stars as David, a "mecha," or robot of the future designed to experience love. David becomes the "son" of Henry and his grief-stricken wife, Monica, whose own “real son” is thought to be hopelessly comatose. But when their natural child recovers, David is abandoned and sets out to become "a real boy," worthy of his mother's affection.

We can relate to this modern-day Pinocchio precisely because the mecha, David takes human form, and because of this, and his ability through cybernetics to feel "real love," we feel deeply for him. This is not the case in Her. We are expected to believe that Theodore feels deeply for Samantha, but we don’t share his feelings, and it’s hard to relate to this “relationship” as meaningful.

I will say this for the film, it made me think back to 1997 and IBM's "Deep Blue" computer program, which defeated chess champion Garry Kasparov in a six-game match, and more recently, its progeny, Watson, defeating a team of experts in Jeopardy. I had to ask myself, how close are we to Samantha? But then I remembered my very own, Siri, who, when my son picked up the iPad and asked her to recommend a good Asian-Fusion restaurant in the Tri-Cities, replied,

"I can direct you to three kennels nearby."

Saturday, January 18, 2014

August: Osage County

The movie, August: Osage County, is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play of the same name by Tracy Letts. My wife and I saw the movie on a cold, foggy, and generally bleak Saturday afternoon in the Tri-Cities, Washington. The weather was a fitting backdrop for the movie, although a tornado laying waste to the area, and the movie theater burning to the ground would have been even more fitting.

August: Osage County chronicles a few days in the life of the Weston Family of Osage County, Oklahoma. Beverly Weston is married to Violet by whom he has three daughters, Barbara, the oldest, Ivy, the unmarried middle daughter, and Karen, the airhead youngest daughter, who is focused entirely on "being happy." Ain’t gonna happen, folks. No one in this family is ever going to be happy, and no one in the movie theater is going to leave it happy, unless they leave early, really, really early. I have to admit there were a few laughs in the audience during the showing; the kind you hear when an unexpected crude joke is told at the church social.

Violet is dying of mouth cancer, probably the result of her foul language and vicious attacks on her husband, her daughters, and anyone unfortunate enough to be in earshot. Yes, she’s led a hard life, but her intent seems to be to inflict as much punishment on her family as possible before her hard life comes to its inevitable and well-deserved end.

A reviewer called this drama a “scintillating criticism of the modern American family.” Whose modern American family are we talking about here -- Susan Powell’s? This family, like the Powells, is an anomaly; an outlier on the very end of the diving board over the empty pool. Tracy Letts has pulled out all the stops in establishing the backstory for his play/movie (based in part on his own family experience) in order to create the dysfunctional relationships and toxic exchanges that occur in the few days that we’re “privileged” to witness.

The family has gathered to determine the fate of the missing father, Beverly. My thought was that he certainly knew the story better than the theater audience and had decided to go fishing for the duration of the movie. Well, sort of.

I don’t want to spoil the suspense for you, so I end my review on this one positive note; the performances by Meryl Streep, as Violet, Julia Roberts, Julianne Nicholson, and Juliette Lewis, as the daughters, and the rest of the cast are uniformly outstanding. Streep’s performance is perhaps her best ever, and that’s saying a lot. She inhabits the character of Violet Weston as if she herself had been possessed by the demon of this sick, awful, bitter, ugly, addicted, harridan. I can’t imagine the emotional toll playing this character took on Streep. Streep admits in an interview that portraying Violet Weston in August: Osage County, wasn’t her “most joyous experience” in acting. No kidding!

Well, it wasn’t my most joyous experience as a viewer either, but damn, it was an experience!