Category Archives: Memoirs

Headline of the day III: Yet another SciFi plot

From the Los Angeles Times:

Deadly superbugs from hospitals get stronger in the sewers and could end up in the Pacific Ocean

A growing number of studies show sewage plants can’t kill the superbugs. Instead the facilities serve as “a luxury hotel” for drug-resistant bacteria, a place where they thrive and grow stronger, said Pedro Alvarez, a professor of environmental engineering at Rice University, one of the scientists studying the problem.

Envirowatch: Alarms shriek, outbreaks, & nukes

We begin with a three-alarm fire, first from the New York Times:

Unprecedented Level of Human Harm to Sea Life Is Forecast

A team of scientists, in a groundbreaking analysis of data from hundreds of sources, has concluded that humans are on the verge of committing unprecedented damage to the oceans and the animals living in them.

“We may be sitting on a precipice of a major extinction event,” said Douglas J. McCauley, an ecologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a co-author of the new research, which was published on Thursday in the journal Science.

But there is still time to avert catastrophe, Dr. McCauley and his colleagues also found. Compared with the continents, the oceans are mostly intact, still wild enough to bounce back to ecological health.

Next, via the Washington Post:

Scientists: Human activity has pushed Earth beyond four of nine ‘planetary boundaries’

At the rate things are going, the Earth in the coming decades could cease to be a “safe operating space” for human beings. That is the conclusion of a new paper published Thursday in the journal Science by 18 researchers trying to gauge the breaking points in the natural world.

The paper contends that we have already crossed four “planetary boundaries.” They include the extinction rate; deforestation; the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere; and the flow of nitrogen and phosphorous (used on land as fertilizer) into the ocean.

“What the science has shown is that human activities — economic growth, technology, consumption – are destabilizing the global environment,” said Will Steffen, who holds appointments at the Australian National University and the Stockholm Resilience Center and is the lead author of the paper.

And this from the Guardian:

Rate of environmental degradation puts life on Earth at risk, say scientists

  • Humans are ‘eating away at our own life support systems’ at a rate unseen in the past 10,000 years, two new research papers say

They found that the changes of the last 60 years are unprecedented in the previous 10,000 years, a period in which the world has had a relatively stable climate and human civilisation has advanced significantly.

Carbon dioxide levels, at 395.5 parts per million, are at historic highs, while loss of biosphere integrity is resulting in species becoming extinct at a rate more than 100 times faster than the previous norm.

Since 1950 urban populations have increased seven-fold, primary energy use has soared by a factor of five, while the amount of fertiliser used is now eight times higher. The amount of nitrogen entering the oceans has quadrupled.

All of these changes are shifting Earth into a “new state” that is becoming less hospitable to human life, researchers said.

From the report:

BLOG Boundaries

The Pope draws a conclusion, via Reuters:

Pope says climate change mostly man’s fault

Pope Francis said on Thursday he believed that man was primarily responsible for climate change and that he hoped this year’s Paris conference would take a courageous stand to protect the environment.

The Pope said his long-awaited encyclical on the environment was almost finished and that he hoped it would be published in June, ahead of the U.N. climate meeting in Paris in November.

Speaking to reporters on the plane taking him from Sri Lanka to Manila, he was asked specifically if man was mostly to blame for climate change.

“I don’t know if it is all (man’s fault) but the majority is, for the most part, it is man who continuously slaps down nature,” he said.

Next, some good newws [?] from the London Telegraph:

Haggis is the cure for American obesity epidemic, say peers

  • President Obama urged to drop ban on sale of haggis in the US

The United States should lift its ban on the import of haggis in an attempt to tackle the country’s obesity crisis, a leading medic has said.

Lord McColl of Dulwich, a retired professor of surgery, said American Scots were being deprived of the “wholesome” food and as a result dying of obesity.

Lord Winston, a leading fertility doctor and television presenter, told the Lords that haggis was “revolting” but if it could be used to curb obesity it should be promoted in Glasgow.

And what constitutes Groundskeeper Willie’s favorite dish? From Wikipedia:

Haggis is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach and simmered for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a sausage casing rather than an actual stomach.

On to outbreaks, first with Jiji Press:

Bird Flu Outbreak Confirmed in Okayama Pref.

An outbreak of highly pathogenic bird flu has been confirmed in the western Japan prefecture of Okayama, prefectural government officials said Thursday.

Chickens that died at a poultry farm in the city of Kasaoka tested positive for H5 subtype avian flu virus in a genetic test, the officials said.

This was the fourth case of highly pathogenic bird flu in Japan this winter, following two in the southwestern prefecture of Miyazaki and one in the western prefecture of Yamaguchi last month.

Closer to Casa esnl with the Associated Press:

6 more California measles cases tied to Disney outbreak

California health officials confirmed that six new measles cases are connected to an outbreak at Disney theme parks last month, bringing the total number of illnesses to 32.

The new cases include five in Los Angeles County and one in San Diego County. Craig Sturak with the San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency said Thursday that the latest case in his area posed no threat of public exposure.

Officials were working to confirm additional possible cases in San Diego County after several people showed up to an urgent care clinic with measles symptoms. Sharp HealthCare spokesman Curtis Ippolito says the La Mesa clinic closed after patients arrived Wednesday morning with fevers and rashes. He declined to say how many people were involved or whether they were related.

Across the Atlantic with StarAfrica:

Cholera outbreak kills 20 in oil rich Rivers State of Nigeria

The outbreak of Cholera in 11 communities in the oil rich Rivers State in south-eastern Nigeria has claimed 20 lives, the state Commissioner for Health, Dr Sampson Parker, has confirmed.

Parker told journalists in Port Harcourt on Wednesday after visiting the affected communities in Andoni Local Government Area that the outbreak was reported on January 5.

“So far, 171 cases have been recorded with 20 deaths in the outbreak which was reported on January 5. The Local Government Area Rapid Response Team with State Emergency Response Team, have responded swiftly,” he said.

From StarAfrica again, and even more troubling:

Rwanda faults imported bed nets for surge in malaria infections

For a country that has been acclaimed as a role model in the fight against malaria, Rwanda’s story has now somewhat become worrying.

Malaria skyrocketed by over 30 percent to one million cases in 2013, while the most affected, Kirehe District, reported more than 40, 000 cases in December last year, up from 37,812 in November.

According to the Rwandan Minister of Health, Agnes Binagwaho, the worrying situation is being blamed on sham mosquito bed nets imported from Netprotect – a Danish firm.

After conducting investigations, the government is now awaiting approval from its Justice Ministry to drag Netprotect to court for providing nets that did not serve their purpose.

On to China and another epidemic, via People’s Daily:

China reports over 100,000 new HIV/AIDS infections in 2014

China reported 104,000 new HIV/AIDS infections in 2014, up 14.8 percent from the previous year, the country’s central health authority revealed on Thursday.

Wang Guoqiang, vice head of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, said that the overall rates of infection and number of HIV/AIDS cases have stayed at a low level.

China has provided anti-viral treatment for an additional 85,000 HIV/AIDS patients last year, an increase of 21.2 percent compared with 2013, Wang said at a national conference on disease control.

Wang said despite the low pandemic situation, the spread of the disease in certain areas is still high.

SciDev.Net covers anther outbreak:

Race is on to save banana from fungus wilt

A global plan to fight Fusarium wilt, a fungus spreading from Asia to Africa and the Middle East, is needed to prevent the world’s most popular banana variety from disappearing.

The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) and 30 other organisations have estimated that a strategic global plan to contain the disease could cost US$47 million to implement.

The fungus, Fusarium oxysporum f.sp. cubense Tropical Race 4, or TR4, is a destructive one that afflicted Asia for more than 20 years, affecting China, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan, as well as northern Australia.

Its appearance in Mozambique in early 2013 raised the alarm of cross-continent spread, and sparked moves to devise the global plan, the main goals of which were discussed last month during a meeting in Rome where the FAO is based.

After the jump, avian climate change deaths in Mexico, deforestation threatens the world natural medicine wellsprings, on to the fracking front, with numbers from the Golden State and a fracking transformation of Ohio into an earthquake hot zone, Colombian farmers await a verdict in their BP pollution suit, then on to Fukushimapocalypse Now!, with a hot waste shipment delay, Japanese subsidies for faster reactor restarts, Fukushima fears haunt nuclear power politics in Seoul, China’s President Xi sees a golden nuclear power future, and an international nuke disaster compensation accord draws nigh. . . Continue reading

Elmore Leonard, 87, a hard boiled paragon

Elmore Leonard, like Raymond Chandler, wrote like a slumming angel.

His first words for hire were Chevrolet commercials, but he loved the hard-boiled stuff, the tersely worded, hard-hitting stories that filled the pulp magazines once so beloved of kids who read by flashlight under the covers.

He started out writing Westerns, then moved his characters into the present, and always somewhere in the background were directors, hungry for spare, cinematic visions.

Like all good writers of the hard boiled genre, Leonard knew just how to insert tongue in cheek, ensuring there were always laughs to accompany the shudders.

Elmore Leonard’s gone now. He died today, ending a solid 87-year run.

We’ll miss him, both at the movies and under the covers.

We leave with images and words:

Elmore Leonard on Writing

From vlogger Nettoyeur71:

Mr Majestyk’, ‘Stick’, ‘Cat Chaser’, ‘52 Pick up’ – just some of the colourful, clever and very exciting thrillers penned by Mr Elmore Leonard. Here he talks about his career to date, and gives us a lil insight into his writing methods.

This is a 2006 interview repeated recently which I managed to grab off the iplayer.

Elmore Leonard At the Movies Compilation

From vlogger Gregg Sutter:

A compilation of Elmore Leonard’s movies assembled to honor his 75th Birthday, It was shown at the Telluride Film Festival at a Variety event in the year 2000.

From the Criterion Collection:

Elmore Leonard on 3:10 to Yuma

Random Sunday thoughts on the human condition

We began blogging soon after being laid off from our last newspaper job, a consequence of the economic crash and an advertiser boycott of the Berkeley Daily Planet organized by a trio of militant Ziocons.

In the following three years we’ve made 7,296 posts [this is the 7,297th] about a wide range of subjects, selected on the basis of both personal interest and a desire to share our thoughts of issues we think are very important to understand in an age when events are spiraling rapidly toward a critical turning point in the history of both our species and our planet.

In the last year, we’ve been focusing intensely on the developments in Europe, where a concerted efforts is underway to destroy the institutions built up over the course of the last two centuries to stem the rapacity of the financial elites who rose to power through the confluence of forces embodied in the imperial colonial adventures that began in the late 15th Century, the creation of central banks, the invention of the modern corporation as a weapon of colonial conquest, and an industrial revolution by the exploitation of the planet’s non-renewable energy reserves.

We have watched as the forces of money and multinational corporations have eaten away at labor rights, social protections, and the machinery of democratic process — the latter gutted by international treaties transcending national laws and the evolution of powerful and secretive transnational organizations.

All of this has transpired under an agenda epitomized in the quotation from Aldous Huxley’s Island featured on the blog’s flag: “Armaments, universal debt and planned obsolescence — those are the three pillars of Western prosperity.”

Now, as the era of cheap energy reaches its end and our environment is being poisoned by the “externalities” of the industrial age, we are facing a crisis that is both global in scope and of our own making.

Accompanying this massive transformation and environmental degradation has been the capture of the Western world’s communications media by giant corporations which have severed the links between media and community, laid off most of their journalists, and transformed the media into machines for selling both product and propaganda.

And lest we forget, all the alternative media are carried through corporate channels, and can be shut down by a simple flick of a switch.

Governments that fail to play by the rules set down by the bank-and-corporate-owned governments and transnational alliances of the West are destroyed. While the West was busily demonizing Moammar Gaddafi’s Libya, the flood of stories rarely if ever mentioned that Libyans received guaranteed incomes, health care, housing and education, and that the government had created the greatest civil engineering project of the 20th Century, the Great Man Made River, to bring water to the cities along the coast.

While the West was busily bombing Libya, using bombs from Israel in the case of Denmark, the violence unleashed in the country was carried out in large part by members of the same groups NATO was fighting in Afghanistan — including Al Qaeda. But all this was lost on most of the Western media, which hewed to the official line, just as they did to the myths of Iraqi WMDs.

Death of the American news media

We discovered our journalistic vocation on 9 November 1964, when we walked into the newsroom of the San Luis Valley Courier as a college sophomore and left that night having written the lead front page story and shot the accompanying photo. We’d never thought about reporting before that day.

Of the seven newspapers where we served on staff, only two have survived, the Las Vegas-Review-Journal and the Sacramento Bee. All the rest were either merged into larger, chain-owned papers or succumbed to the loss of advertising revenues and subscribers that have plagued the American press over the last 35 years.

In the most extreme case, the Oceanside Blade-Tribune — where we served first as reporter, then as city editor — the newspaper was bought and folded into a chain. Of the dozen local, community newspapers which then existed in North San Diego County California, only one remains, and that was recently bought by the same owner, Manchester Lynch Integrated Media Holdings [a developer], who bought the only large newspaper in the county as well as one of the last remaining papers in Riverside County to the north. The inevitable layoffs followed.

This cartoon, from another since-closed paper, deftly sums up our concern:

So we’ll keep writing as long as we’re able.

The world’s in trouble, and it’s up to us to act.

WikiCable: The editor of a doomed Bahraini paper

Much has changed in the six years since then-Ambassador William T. Monroe reported on 29 June 2005 on his conversation of the day before with Mansour Al-Jamry, the editor of Al Wasat, Bahrain’s only opposition newspaper.

First, according to a Reuters report published Tuesday in the Egyptian newspaper Al Ahram, the newspaper will cease publication Monday.

Bahrain’s Al Wasat newspaper, seen as the country’s only opposition publication, will stop publication as of next week

The newspaper was targeted in a rolling crackdown by Bahrain’s Sunni-led government against Shi’ite opposition political groups and activists after it crushed anti-government protests and declared martial law in March.


Al Wasat resumed publication following its suspension a day after three editors left the paper, including editor-in-chief Mansour al Jamri, the son of a former Shi’ite opposition leader. Prosecutors later questioned the three over the accusations.

A source close to the newspaper told Reuters the last edition of the newspaper would appear on May 9: “It’s for economic reasons, the commercial viability was gone.”

Second, one of the Shia opposition leaders cited in the dispatch, Abdul Hadi Al-Khawaja, was severely beaten and arrested by police in April, according to Human Rights Watch. At last report, he was scheduled to go on trial today on charges of inciting unrest.

One of the ironies in reading the cable is the evident sympathy expressed by Al-Jamry  towards Bahraini monarch Sheikh Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa.

In light of subsequent developments, consider the cable’s concluding paragraph:

Al-Jamry represents much of what is good about Bahrain since King Hamad launched his reform effort. Having spent years in London in exile, he returned and set up a newspaper that is contributing to the more open discourse that one finds in Bahrain these days. He believes passionately in reform, and is willing to take risks (as when he took on the Malkiya wall issue). But he recognizes the complexities of moving the reform process forward in Bahrain — both because of the dynamics within the Royal Family and within the opposition Shia community. He acknowledged to the Ambassador that at times he gets frustrated and is tempted to return to the comfortable life he had in London. If he did, it would be a real loss for Bahrain.

The dispatch is posted online here.

291148Z Jun 05
S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 03 MANAMA 000922
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/29/2015



Classified By: Ambassador William T. Monroe. Reason: 1.4 (B)(D)


1. (S) Independent newspaper editor Mansour Al-Jamry, in a June 28 discussion with the Ambassador, gave a wide-ranging review of the complexities and challenges facing King Hamad as he pursues reform in Bahrain. On the one hand, the King faces challenges from his two uncles: Prime Minister Khalifa and Shaikh Mohammed. The King has been quietly trying to erode the economic power of the Prime Minister, moving PM cronies out of Cabinet positions and granting enhanced powers to the Economic Development Board (overseen by Crown Prince Salman). The PM, however, has allies sprinkled throughout the bureaucracies, and it would be wrong, Al-Jamry cautioned, to count him out just yet. The other uncle, Shaikh Mohammed, who is in a coma, has long lived outside the law and his financial interests are being protected and advanced by his children. One son, Shaikh Hamad, was at the center of a recent controversy over a wall built in a Shia village that cut off access to the sea. Al-Jamry led the charge against the uncle, which resulted in a rare retreat by a powerful Royal Family member.

2. (C) Another set of challenges highlighted by Al-Jamry comes from the oppostion Al-Wifaq and a more extreme group of Shia led by activist Abdul-Hadi Al-Khawaja. Al-Jamry spoke positively of the way the King has dealt with recent demonstrations on constitutional reform organized by Al-Wifaq, and was sympathetic to “the box” the King finds himself in dealing with Al-Khawaja’s more provocative challenges. He said that Al-Khawaja considers himself “untouchable” because of support from the U.S. and the West, but is an opportunist who has no interest in democratic reform. Al-Khawaja, he added, also poses a dilemma for opposition Shia, including Al-Wifaq and leading clerics like Shaikh Issa Qassim. End summary.


3. (C) The Ambassador met June 28 with Mansour Al-Jamry, founder and editor-in-chief of the independent Arabic-language newspaper “Al-Wasat,” for a discussion of Bahrain’s reform efforts and the various challenges facing King Hamad as he attempts to move Bahrain’s reform process forward. Al-Jamry, who comes from one of the most prominent Shia families in Bahrain, lived in exile in London for many years before returning to Bahrain after the King introduced his constitutional reforms in 2001. Under Al-Jamry’s leadership, Al-Wasat has provided lively coverage of controversial issues, such Continue reading

Paperback Books: Memories of a vanished world

Here’s the teaser for Paperback Dreams, a PBS documentary about two Bay Area bookstores, Cody’s and Kepler’s. The whole film is posted online here at SnagFilms.

Since the mid-1990’s, more than half the nation’s independent bookstores have closed, and Paperback Dreams tells the tale of one now-closed store and a second which has struggled, surviving one closure and now back again.

I once calculated that over the course of a couple of decades I’d spent $20,000 at one of the stores, the late, much-lamented Cody’s Book’s of Berkeley. From the time I moved to Davis in 1983 with a new spouse, I came to Berkeley to shop at Cody’s about once a month, returning home with anywhere from five to ten books.

My son, Derald, often accompanied me at first, then joined my first daughter, Jackie, and then by second, Sammi, who returned home [in Davis first, then Sacramento, finally Napa] with books of their own. They loved the trips, though mostly because of Telegraph Avenue, which they found almost as fun as a circus, sometimes more so.

For me, Cody’s was a near-erotic experience, a nexus for indulging my lifelong love affair with the printed word. I’m one of those odd folk who find books a profoundly sensual experience. I love their feel, their smell, the wondrous images, the sound of the turning page — though I gave up tasting them with I left the toddler teething stage.

Cody’s was an expansive sensorium, a place where I discovered new interests, new writers, new ideas. It was part of my life, a liberating experience untouched by the cares impinging on work and home.

One of the reasons I shopped at Cody’s was a series of friendships with bookstore owners earlier in my life, doubly rewarding because once they knew my interests, they’d introduce me to books with new ideas.

I worked at a bookstore back in my college days for a delightful owner, taking all my pay in trade. Later, when I was a reporter and then city editor in Oceanside, both downtown store owners gave me credit and introduced me to countless new books and authors; I’ll be forever grateful to one for introducing me to Lord Buckley and the other for wiping out my not inconsiderable debt when I moved on. Still later, in Sacramento, a bookstore clerk gave me unexpected discounts, turned me on to some important reads, and gave me occasional news leads and foreign film recommendations.

I’ve watched the destruction of the local American book merchant with great sorrow, afflicted first by the rise of the chains, then by the discounters, and then slain by the Internet.

It’s been heartbreaking to watch the independents die, and with them, a perfect niche for a booklover to thrive as an independent merchant. They were good friends, lively people interested in ideas and conversations, and blessed with the contentment that comes from a livelihood precisely what they loved best.

Cody’s is gone now, briefly reincarnated as a pale shadow in a Shattuck Avenue storefront before finally vanishing. Kepler’s, where I’ve spent a few bucks as well, is still here.

I still shop mostly at stores, because I like to handle books before I buy them, checking out fonts and illustrations, perusing the indexes, eyeballing the references, feeling the quality of the binding and paper.

[I was about to write that it’s hard to judge things online, but then I remembered that the most delightful relationship of recent years came through an online encounter, and that commenced from nearly half a world apart. But still, I prefer the immediate hands-on approach to books, and I miss as well the little spark of community that flourishes in the independent bookstore.]

And enjoy the documentary.

Leslie Nielsen is gone, a very funny man

Word this evening that Canadian actor Leslie Nielsen, best known for his role as Lt. Frank Drebin in the Police Squad films, has gone.

While most people probably remember him for his straight-faced comedic portrayals, I remember him best as the man who starred in the film that sacred me sleepless.

For a nine year old kid, Forbidden Planet was the most frightening experience imaginable. And that’s precisely the source of the fear: Imagination.

The 1956 film was the first science fiction tale filmed with believable special effects, meaning there was no perceptible gimmickery of the sort that had always let the viewer know that she was watching trickery created in a studio craft shop.

But MGM pulled out the stops and its wallet for the film, and to a young child living in a small Kansas farm town, the result was stunning. Space travel became real, as did the monster conjured up by a screen writer. And therein lay the film’s brilliance. For the monster was invisible, a massive, hulking, unstoppable predator that became visible only when attacked by other equally invisible energy weapons.

What made the film even more frightening was that fact that my family was in the process of moving to Colorado, where my dad had bought into a furniture store in Fort Collins.

We had sold our house and moved into a rental while dad was closing out his half interest in Shank & Brenneman, a paint, glass, and wallpaper store in Abilene. Our temporary home was an aging bungalow, with floors that creaked in the night.

After I came home from the Plaza Theater [children’s seats, 14 cents], I waited bedtime with dread, and spent the sleepless night with the blankets drawn up over my head, quaking each time a floor joist groaned and nearly losing control of my bladder when Mickey, our fat orange Persian cat, jumped up onto the bed.

So whenever I think of Leslie Nielsen, it’s always with mixed emotions, a smile and a shudder.

And only later did I realize that the futuristic space opera was a translation of a much older tale, William Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

So here’s a bit of footage from Forbidden Planet.

And here, from the film that launched his second career in comedy, is his most famous line from Airplane.

And here’s the opening of the Associated Press obituary:

Leslie Nielsen, who traded in his dramatic persona for inspired bumbling as a hapless doctor in “Airplane!” and the accident-prone detective Frank Drebin in “The Naked Gun” comedies, died on Sunday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 84.

The Canadian-born actor died from complications from pneumonia at a hospital near his home at 5:34 p.m., surrounded by his wife, Barbaree, and friends, his agent John S. Kelly said in a statement.

“We are saddened by the passing of beloved actor Leslie Nielsen, probably best remembered as Lt. Frank Drebin in ‘The Naked Gun’ series of pictures, but who enjoyed a more than 60-year career in motion pictures and television,” said Kelly.

Nielsen came to Hollywood in the mid-1950s after performing in 150 live television dramas in New York. With a craggily handsome face, blond hair and 6-foot-2 height, he seemed ideal for a movie leading man.

Nielsen first performed as the king of France in the Paramount operetta “The Vagabond King” with Kathryn Grayson.

The film — he called it “The Vagabond Turkey” — flopped, but MGM signed him to a seven-year contract.

His first film for that studio was auspicious — as the space ship commander in the science fiction classic “Forbidden Planet.”