Syria Getting Serious

What the hell is going on in Syria?  I sure as hell don’t know.

The U.S. claims to be fighting ISIS, as does Iran, although there’s little love lost between the U.S. and Iran, and Russia is supporting Assad, which logically means it should be fighting ISIS, but it seems to have decided that the rebels the U.S. is actually  supporting is the greater “threat to stability,” which is the phrase used when somebody wants to support the person currently in power.

I don’t have the solution, but I hope Obama is looking at the big picture.  First, what does this have to do with Ukraine?  One of two possible things:  either things are not going as well for Putin as Russia would have wished, so he’s unloading on Syria, like the man who kicks the dog because his wife has  started fighting back, and also as a calculated political ploy of distraction.  Or, things are going very well for him in  Ukraine and the old son of a bitch  is getting greedy.

Vladimir Putin is much smarter than G.W. was, he is probably not starting two wars at once just for shits and giggles.

The other country that I think of is Afghanistan, but the Afghanistan of long  ago, when the  Taliban were the Mujaheddin and people like Reagan and McCain were referring to them as Freedom Fighters and so we armed them and they drove the Russians out.

I’m not in favor of Russian imperialism, especially living  in a former Warsaw Pact nation, but the middle east is a messed up place.  The world, and the Middle East, might be better off for their presence. If not, let them wallow in it.

As far as the West is concerned, the least action taken  in in the Middle East, the better.

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A Planet With a Violent Past

I just saw a headline that said something like “New evidence from Charon reveals Plutos Violent Past” and I thought “What a strange way of putting it?”  It’s not as if I have any better suggestions, if I were writing science articles for a major website, I’d probably talk about various planets and their “violent past” too, but it sounds wrong.

When I hear “violent past” I think of a teenage kid who carried a knife, a guy who used to get drunk and get in fights in bars a lot.  Planets are large objects which sometimes get hit by other large objects.  They are not sentient, so they don’t think of it as violent.  It’s the norm, not the exception, so in the culture of planets, it’s very hard to single out a specific one and say “it had a violent past.  You should watch out for that one.”

Actually, Earth is probably somewhat blessed in that respect.  Although we had a violent past, that stage was billions of years ago.  The last world-changing cosmic event was 65 million years ago, and that’s probably about average.

Of course, a couple of contributing factors are the existence of Jupiter, a huge big brother of a planet that the Earth manages to hide behind when some of the worst asteroids are coming in, and the fact that we have an atmosphere, which burns up most of the incoming comets.

So, adding in the L (length of time necessary for a species to evolve and develop a technological civilization) factor to the Drake equation, we may well be one of the lucky very few planets in the Universe to get as far as we’ve got.

And we don’t know how long we can keep it going.

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Born Again Trump

If you haven’t seen this latest little snippet of the reality show they are doing of the American presidential campaign,  you really must.  On the one hand, it’s hysterical.  On the other hand, everybody present was taking it dead seriously, and so will millions of people who see it online.

Donald Trump met with 40 evangelical leaders and they laid on hands and called down God’s blessing on his furry head.  (speaking  of furry, was that a weird trick of the light or has he started sporting a mustache?  I’m tending toward weird trick of the light, but not sure.)

The Jew for Jesus guy was particularly weird, with all of his Baruch Adonai-ing and stuff.  Does it still count as cultural appropriation if it’s done by someone who was originally from that culture but has sort of defected?  The way I see it, it counts double.

Also, I’m not buying this ‘caught on cell phone’ or ‘didn’t know the cameras were rolling’ nonsense.  He knew.  This was absolutely deliberate.  Do the math.  If each of those present has a following of only 1,000 (an extreamely conservative, small c conservative, estimate), then Trump just scored 40,000 new followers.  And what followers!  Those  who follow the words of these nutcase preachers with rapt devotion and a literal mindedness that  would  make a robot proud.

No, I don’t  think it was accidental at all.  He roped  in the racists with that one  single line about Mexical rapists, and now he’s working on the religious vote.  Huckabbe never got an endorsement like this.  Santorum never got an endoresemt like this.

Out of the three wings of the Republican  party, he’s got two of them, and he’s not worried about the money wing because he IS money.

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The Pope and Kim Davis

I am a partisan.  I have political opinions (by American standards, most would consider me far left.  By European standards, I’m still fairly left) and I want my side to win, because  I think that’s what’s best for the world.

So, I try not to criticize other people on the left.  If they are people in the public eye, they get plenty of flak, most of it undeserved, from the right, so, even where criticism would be warranted, I usually refrain because it would look like piling on, and we need to stand together.  If they are just people on some facebook comment thread, it depends.  I want to stand with them against the trolls, but sometimes I’ll argue if they say something stupid.

However, the last two or three days, I’ve seen some really stupid comments from the left, and I’ve got to react.

It is not the end of the world that Pope Francis met with Kim Davis.  First, he met with a lot of people.  Second, Kim Davis is really not that important.  Third, isn’t it enough that he has made nice statements about helping the poor, and respecting other religions (and those with no religion), and recognizing climate change as a reality,,,and maybe not having so many wars all the time?  Is gay marriage really so important that you are ready to ignore all those issues?

Choose your battles, people.  And lighten up.

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Back to Pre-School

It was a beautiful autumn day, mostly clear, not very cloudy at all, cool but not cold.  It was my first day back at the German pre-school after the summer vacation.

It is NOT a TUMOR!

It is NOT a TUMOR!

Now, I’m pretty sure I’ve written about this class before, but just in case I haven’t:  This is my nightmare class.  It will be my 3rd year at the school.  The last two years I’ve had one boy who is an arrogant, little know-it-all.  Admittedly, his English was pretty good but he delighted in arguing with me, and defying me, and he was the class leader.  At the opposite end of the spectrum was the little girl who would start crying at the drop of a hat.  When they didn’t like an activity I suggested (which was virtually always) they would start chanting “English is bad!  English is bad!”  It was always the longest hour of the week.

On the way there, just after I got off the tram, I noticed something different in the neighborhood.  The building on the corner, which has been undergoing major renovation  and been a serious eyesore for a long time, is nearly finished and actually looks rather elegant -a large-ish 19th century villa with a little dome on top.

Prague is  famous for it’s ancient buildings but there’s always renovations going on and new stuff coming up, too.  It keeps  things interesting.  In my immediate neighborhood there are two major construction projects going on that should be finished in the spring and one just started that’s still a complete mystery.  But, it’s when you haven’t been in a neighborhood for a few months that you get that sudden surprise.

I only had one return student, and she started right in with the “English is bad!” routine and I think she was surprised that the rest of the group didn’t follow her.  I was thrilled.  I kept their  interest for most of the hour, there were only one or two instances of direct defiance, and nobody started crying.

We are off to a very good start.

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Get Back, Jack

We were walking through the supermarket yesterday and I saw pumpkins for sale.  Nothing wrong with that.  The pumpkin is a vegetable.  However, just to

Too Soon!

Too Soon!

make sure everybody got the idea, there was a Jack o’ Lantern perched right on top.  (It’s starting to catch on here, but Hallowe’en is still very much an American import.)

I like Hallowe’en.  It’s one of my favorite holidays.  I love putting on a costume and going to a party, because you get to put on a totally different persona and the costume gives you a conversational opening with everybody.  But, it’s still September!  If you buy a pumpkin and carve it out now, it will be a stinking, festering, decomposing bit of orangeish-brownish putrescence long before Hallowe’en.

It’s a problem in our society.  Christmas has nearly eaten the half a year that precedes it, and even the minor holidays, like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s day, get a couple of weeks of advance publicity, reminding everybody of how disappointed everybody else will be in them if they don’t go out and buy a whole bunch of shit

Then, there are the completely unnecessary days.  International Coffee Day?  I drink coffee every day as it is.  It’s like having International Toothpaste Day or International Watch TV Day.  Completely superfluous.

Or how about Left Handers Day?  To the best of my knowledge (and nobody has more knowledge on the subject than I) I have been left-handed every day of my life.  There’s no way I can NOT observe the day.  Maybe it’s meant for right handers, that they should try to be left handed for a day.  But, that would be silly.

Let left handers be left handers, let right handers be right handers, and we can each celebrate every day with  whichever hand we like.

There are only 365 days in the year.  We need to let a few of them just be ordinary days.  And, leave off the pumpkin carving until a day or two before Hallowe’en.

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Water on Mars!

It appears there is actually running water on Mars – at least, during the Martian summer, when the planet defrosts for a moment and oozes out some salty slushies, like a bad case of planetary acne, and they run down the hillsides until everything freezes up again.

Water on Mars

Water on Mars

It’s pretty fascinating news, but it’s not going to turn Martian colonization into a piece of cake. It’s not a steady, dependable supply and it might well require a lot of processing before it’s drinkable by human beings, but scientists are jazzed because where there is water, there is life.

O.K., but since the water is only on the surface for part of the Martian year, that life has to be very good at hibernating, like 7 year locust good.  It’s not as if we’ve got little men standing in front of our cameras waving at us.

In fact, there are other places in  the Solar System -Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Titan, for instance – which might have huge, ice-covered oceans filled with weird, alien sea monsters.

Still, it’s good news, it’s another piece of the puzzle, it brings us a step closer to where we want to be, but I don’t expect it’s really going to spark the public imagination and create a surge of public opinion for Martian exploration.  Even today, on the very day it’s happening, people are talking more about the Pope and Donald Trump.

Science geeks are fascinated, but I figure the public will stay interested for about maybe a day and a half.

Which is why I’m blogging about it tonight.

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