Posts Tagged With: Russia

This and that from re Thai r ment, by 3Th. 5 Pops 0007. (August 20, 2018)

 

TODAY FROM AMERICA:

 
POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST:

 

The weekend passed by quickly — mostly waiting for the biopsy on Tuesday. Not having an automobile (it is in the shop having its crumpled fender and other maladies attended too), cuts down on my activities. I had to turn down an assignment from the Scooter gang over the weekend. So, I read and went on walks through the Enchanted Forest. I get all the angst and despair I can handle from social media and television news.

Well, well, — I went for my biopsy yesterday and for the third time during my age of physical deterioration, the doctor, in this case wielding his sonogram, could find no reason for a biopsy. In other words, he could not find a mass in which a malicious deranged cell would hide. I do not know whether or not to be embarrassed after spending a month or so in gloomy speculation and endlessly disclosing my fears to all who would listen — I guess at my age I should not be embarrassed by anything I do anymore. Anyway, I know it is, at best, only a temporary reprieve.

Onward and upward as Terry always advises. Lack of a car limits my mobility and the awful air pollution from the fires restrict my walks and swimming. So, I sit at home, watch Naida work on her memoir, read as much junk as I can, and nap a lot. So goes the winter of my life. It’s not too bad. I could still be sitting around wondering about the results of my medical tests.

This evening was spent watching Janette MacDonald and Nelson Eddy movies. The last movie ended with the Canadian Mountie and the Opera star in an embrace and singing:

You belong to me
I belong to you.

We then rolled up the stairs to bed singing, one with a professionally trained voice and the other with a throat ruined by radiation therapy:

When I’m calling you, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh ooh
If you answer too, ooh , etc.

That means that I offer my love to you
To be your own
If you refuse me, I will be blue
And waiting all alone

But, if when you hear
My love call, ringing clear, ooh, etc.
And I hear you’re
Answering a call so dear, ooh, etc.

Then I will know
That our love will be true

What could be better than that?

The next day I swam in the Nepenthe pool. It is my first time swimming in over a month. It felt good. While sitting by the pool a woman got out of her car and started banging on the gate demanding to get into the pool area. Eventually, she somehow got in. She was hugely pregnant. She took off her shoes, then jumped, fully clothed, into the pool, swam its length, got out, picked up her shoes, returned to her car and drove away. I did not realize it was that hot out. Life is wonderfully surprising even when you are doing nothing but staring at the leaves of some trees.

Today I spent the morning watching Doris Day — Gordon MacRae movies. Listening to them sing “Tea for Two” is an experience I rank somewhere between being drowned in a vat of medicinal cannabis or smothered in meringue.

Later I went to the pool and fell asleep in the shade only to be awakened by the sound of ten-year-olds doing flips into the water. I did my laps while trying to determine if I was in a good mood or bad. Gave up and went home.

My sister Maryann and her husband George dropped by on their way back to Mendocino from Nevada City where they were making arrangements for the wedding of their son Brendan to Ashley his intended. A few weeks ago, I discovered that a friend of mine from my childhood who I haven’t seen in almost seventy years, Snookie Salerno, now lives in Nevada City. I have been told he never returns calls from his old friends (Would you return a call to someone who called you Snookie?). He did not return my calls. So I left him a message inviting him to the wedding.

Anyway, I took Mary and George on a walk around the Enchanted Forest and along the banks of the river. Mary seems well recovered from her bout with breast cancer. I am well recovered from my bout of hypochondria.

I did not watch movies of any sort this evening. Instead, I went to bed at 8PM. Tomorrow the automobile comes out of the shop. I am relieved. I now can drive aimlessly about. I like that better than “tea for two.” Check that, it depends on whom I am having tea with and what kind of tea.

Picked up the car. Have not yet driven it aimlessly but have driven it between the shop and the house with great determination to avoid another crushed fender.

The days pass on — driving the scooter gang around, walking through the Enchanted Forest, swimming in the pools, singing show tunes, drinking margaritas, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, petting the dog, crying over Aretha Franklin, watching old movies, laughing at old jokes — the wheel turns on. And then there is this:

“For the past 2,700 years we have been evolving through the ascending Kali Yuga, and this Yuga is coming to an end in 2025. The end of the Yuga will inevitably be followed by cataclysmic earth changes and civilization collapses,…”
Bibhu Dev Misra

This morning when I left the house I ran into one of the TURKEY GANGS right beyond the front door. Yes, the Enchanted Forest is plagued by several TURKEY GANGS. They lounge along the pathways, mumbling threatening sounds and forcing residents to walk around them. They litter the sidewalks and don’t clean up after they leave. They terrorize small children and small dogs. They are huge, hulking, ugly creatures often four feet tall or more. Something needs to be done about them by the HOA. Perhaps once a year say in November we could have a community Thanksgiving Party and eat a few. They are so large they could each feed several families.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, isn’t that the celebration of a group of immigrants saved by the citizens of the area who in turn demonstrated their gratitude by slaughtering their rescuers and taking their land? Instead of Thanksgivings Day shouldn’t the day be called something like Ingratitude Day?
On Saturday morning, we attended then weekly Saturday Morning Coffee put on by the Nepenthe HOA in the Enchanted Forest. The usual group had assembled. I had a lively discussion with the 93-year-old architect about our various maladies. Later the woman that seems to run these things announced she was not going to run the “Sock Hop” in September (don’t ask — I think it is some attempt at replication of an ancient mating ritual that everyone believes existed and they experienced but it didn’t and they only imagined it. Ask yourself, “Did you ever attend a ‘sock Hop?’” And if you did, did you think the experience was such that you would want to replicate it in your old age?). This set off a flurry of whispers. Later I learned that there is a conflict between the Nepenthe HOA and the nine other HOAs over the running of the social events. I did not understand the politics involved but agreed with Naida who leaned over and said to me sotto voce, “It seems pretty silly to argue over who gets the right to volunteer.”

There are three Age of Declines:

The first Age of Decline is now. It is the first time in history that a majority of a generation lived to old age together, declined together and ultimately will die together. As usual for the past 80 years or so, we have, for better or worse, been the pacesetters.

The second type of Age of Decline is the end of an era. In our case, the end of the greatest Golden Age the world has ever seen.

The third version of an Age of Decline is experienced by all of us that live beyond 75 or so years. Not only do our bodies begin to undergo the inevitable physical and mental failures faced by all biologic creatures who have exceeded their use by date, but also our functions in society at large begin to dissipate. Oh yes, some of us keep on working and striving — and good for those of us who do. Others of us can sometimes pass through a brief period where we are consulted (not very seriously) or honored (weekly or monthly visits) by younger relatives or friends. But really for most of us, we ultimately gather in homes for the elderly or periodically meet with other elderly friends where we attempt to create a small replica of the society that we strode through in our past life — much like the members of the Nepenthe morning coffee, complete with its politics, petty annoyances, and amusements. Lucky are those of us who instead fall in love and experience a decline no less painful but much more blissful.

For the second time in a little over a month, I have been attacked by a Russian Bot. Three critical comments from the same person appeared on my Blog, Trenz Pruca’s Journal — https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/. This is unusual because almost no one ever comments on my blog. Two of the comments were general criticisms of my writing competence in two of my blog posts. A criticism I believe fully justified. In the third comment, this time on my blog about Vladimir Putin (https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/2018/08/07/petrillos-commentary-who-is-vladimir-putin-and-why-is-he-an-enemy-of-the-united-states/. Also, reproduced below.),

He not only objects to my writing style but included an example of how it could be improved by changing my criticism to a justification of Putin’s behavior. I am so proud to have been noticed.

 

 

 

PETRILLO’S COMMENTARY:

 
WHO IS VLADIMIR PUTIN AND WHY IS HE AN ENEMY OF THE UNITED STATES:
It is important to explore the motivations of Vladimir Putin in order to understand much of the actions and policies of the Kremlin in the past few years.

First, as is true with most revolutions, the inevitable reaction reinstitute the structures of the old regime but with new titles (but often the same slogans). In Russia, the new oligarchs, like the Soviet Commissars before them, have decorated their dachas and palaces like the Tsars from whom they have taken them. The old prisons have been reopened and refilled with the enemies of the state. The so-called secret services have been restored and given new names.

The Tsar’s rentier aristocracy was replaced by the industrial Commissars. The Commissars have now been replaced by a financial/commercial oligarchy. True, the Commissars were governmental employees at the time they acquired their wealth and power and the oligarchs are not, but like the landed aristocrats they still owe their wealth to the Tsar in the Kremlin and they cross him at their peril.

Second, Putin is not only the head of the Russian government but the chief and undoubtedly the largest oligarch of them all.

Third, Putin is a Russian, a child of the Rodina, and as such the humiliation of Soviet Russia by the American commercial and military empire is a stain on its honor that any patriot would work tirelessly to remove.

Fourth, he was a low-level bureaucrat in the Soviet secret service (KGB) trained in espionage. As such, one would assume he is more comfortable with the strategies of subversion that those of military conquest.

Finally, he is extremely popular in Russia (and in many other areas of the world). Ninety-six percent of Russians approved of his military initiatives in Ukraine; ninety-five percent believed that America was goading Kiev to persecute ethnic Russians in that country. Ninety-two percent believed the same situation existed in Russian enclaves in the Caucasus, Moldova, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia.

In brief, we have in Vladimir Putin an exceedingly popular, short (he is a tiny but exceptionally athletic man), greedy, subversive nationalist with a special antipathy for the United States.

 

 

 

MOPEY JOE’S MEMORIES:

 

‘’ When the long nights would come long ago, the people of this and another village would gather together every night sitting beside the fire or wherever they could find room in the house. Many a device they would resort to shorten the night. The man who had a long tale, or the man who had the shorter tales (eachtraithe), used to be telling them. At that time people used to go earning their pay working in County Limerick, County Tipperary and County Cork, and many a tale they had when they would return, everyone with his own story so that you would not notice the night passing. Often the cock would crow before you would think of going home.”
Leabhar Sheáin Í Chonaill (1948)

 

MEMORIES OF BLASKET ISLAND, IRELAND.

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40 years or so ago, I traveled to Great Blasket Island off the Western Coast of Ireland. This bleak and barren island located off the tip of the Dingle Peninsula housed between 100 to 150 souls until the 1940s when the Irish Government in a fit of uncharacteristic responsibility removed the remaining twenty-two of them and resettled them in other parts of the country. As far as I know, none of the islanders objected to the relocation nor made any attempt to return.

I ferried there from mainland Ireland in one of those tar-covered little leather boats that used to be common in the western part of the country.
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Drying the boats. The village is in the background.

 

I met the ferry-man in the pub that stands on the bluff overlooking Blasket and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. For a few dollars, I persuaded him to row me there. There was no regular motor ferry to the island then but there is now.

Although the passage from the mainland to the islands is no more than a couple of miles, during much of the year when the Island was inhabited, it was too stormy and impassable for the small traditional row boats available at the time to make the crossing. As a result, the residents of Blasket were often marooned and had to live exclusively on what they could glean there on the island.

Even though the sea was relatively calm during my trip, the waves and currents in the straight threw the little boat around quite a bit causing the oarsman to strain at the oars and me to question the rationale for my visit.
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A traditional leather covered boat (a type of coracle) approaching Blasket Island. I took a boat like this on my trip.

 

We landed on a tiny bit of dressed stone surrounded on three sides by large rocks making an anchorage about ten feet or so wide. We tied up to a rusty and corroded iron ring.

I left the ferry-man there with a promise to return in an hour and a half.

In the only habitable place on the lee of the island lay a tiny village in ruins and deserted. I climbed through the ruins and into the abandoned cottage — Peig’s cottage. It was my reason for the trip — to pay homage Peig Sayers.

Peig was an old woman and seanchai (storyteller) who when approached by a representative of the Irish Folklore Commission and asked to write the story of her life on that forlorn island, did so. Much to the surprise of all, it became perhaps the greatest work of Gaelic prose literature.

The Book opens with the words:

I am an old woman now, with one foot in the grave and the other on its edge. I have experienced much ease and much hardship from the day I was born until this very day. Had I known in advance half, or even one-third, of what the future had in store for me, my heart wouldn’t have been as gay or as courageous it was in the beginning of my days.

 

In the evenings the people on the Island would gather in Peig’s cottage to listen to her stories. Seosamh Ó Dálaigh wrote the following about these sessions:

‘I wish I had the ability to describe the scene in Peig Sayers’s home in Dunquin on a winter’s night when the stage was set for the seanchaí’ ‘When the visitors arrived (for all gathered to the Sayers house when Peig was there to listen to her from supper-time till midnight) the chairs were moved back and the circle increased. News was swapped, and the news often gave the lead for the night’s subject, death, fairies, weather, crops.’ All was grist to the mill, the sayings of the dead and the doings of the living, and Peig, as she warmed to her subject, would illustrate it richly from her repertoire of verse, proverb and story…

Great artist and wise woman that she was, Peig would at once switch from gravity to gaiety, for she was a light-hearted woman, and her changes of mood and face were like the changes of running water. As she talked her hands would be working too; a little clap of the palms to cap a phrase, a flash of the thumb over the shoulder to mark a mystery, a hand hushed to mouth for mischief or whispered secrecy. ‘When the fun is at its height it is time to go,’ runs the Irish proverb; and when visitors went each night Peig would draw the ashes over the peat-embers to preserve the fire till morning, reciting her customary prayer: ‘I preserve the fire as Christ preserves all. Brigid at the two ends of the house, and Mary in the centre. The three angels and the three apostles who are highest in the Kingdom of Grace, guiding this house and its contents until day.’

 

Her home there on Blasket was now little more than rocks piled on one another for walls with more rocks added to make the roof (I understand it has been made into lodging for a small hostel now). Peig’s home contained a single room in which she spent most of her life.
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Peig in her cottage.

 

Beyond the village, exposed to the fierce winds off the Atlantic, the island was covered in a thick mat of furze, Irish gorse, and heather, with peat (or bog or turf) beneath. When walking on it, although it supported my weight, it felt as though I was walking on a springy mattress.

There were no trees or bushes to be seen anywhere. I climbed part way down a steep incline towards the cliffs on the island’s north side where the residents would scramble down to pilfer the eggs of the shorebirds that nested there. I did not go further than perhaps 10 feet or so because the cliff quickly became much steeper. It was on those steep cliffs according to Peig that Blasket’s citizens often met their death trying to secure enough food to carry them through the winter storms.
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The North side of Blasket Island and the cliffs.

 

As hard as life was on Blasket, during the Irish persecutions and famines several mainland families settled on the island, “Because life was better there.”
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A Better Life?

 

Perhaps the most astounding thing about Blasket was that Peig was not the only one from there who authored a Gaelic literary classic. Two others, Twenty Years a Growing and The Islandman, were written by Blasket natives also.

How hard was life on Blasket? Tomas O’Crohan in The Islandman wrote the following about his children:

“Ten children were born to us, but they had no good fortune, God help us! The very first of them that we christened was only seven or eight years old when he fell over the cliff and was killed. From that time on they went as quickly as they came. Two died of measles, and every epidemic that came carried off one or other of them. Donal was drowned trying to save the lady off the White Strand. I had another fine lad helping me. Before long I lost him, too.”

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Blasket Island Today.

 

 

 

 

DAILY FACTOIDS:

 

 

In his fascinating book In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power, Alfred McCoy relates some facts about the collapse of the American education system that should give every American concern about what sort of a society we a leaving to our children.

In 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) tested 510,000 fifteen-year-olds in thirty-four developed nations, finding those in Shanghai came first in math, science, and reading, while those in Massachusetts, “A strong-performing U.S. state,” placed seventeenth in reading, twentieth in science, and twenty-seventh in math. The OECD also found that American students “have particular weaknesses in performing mathematics tasks with higher cognitive demands, such as … interpreting mathematical aspects in real-world problems.” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan rued these results as “a picture of educational stagnation.” The National Intelligence Council noted that the country’s educational advantage “has been cut in half in the past 30 years,” meaning that without major investments in schools Americans “will increasingly bring only mediocre skills to the workplace.”

McCoy, Alfred W.. In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power (Dispatch Books) (Kindle Locations 4973-4975). Haymarket Books.
After leading the world for decades in twenty-five-to thirty-four-year-olds with university degrees, the United States sank to twelfth place in 2012. That same year, the World Economic Forum ranked the United States at a mediocre forty-seventh among 144 nations in the quality of its university math and science instruction. Two years later, its position slid to fifty-first.

McCoy, Alfred W.. In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power (Dispatch Books) (Kindle Locations 4978-4981). Haymarket Books.

A survey of some 150 major American universities in 2010 found that more than half of all graduate students in the sciences were foreigners: 70 percent in electrical engineering, 63 percent in computer science, and 52 percent in materials engineering.

McCoy, Alfred W.. In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power (Dispatch Books) (Kindle Locations 4982-4984).

 

 

 

 

 

PEPE’S POTPOURRI:

 
A. Lou Bronico on Top:

Something I received from my cousin Lou:

Letter to My Boss:

I have enjoyed working here these past several years. You have paid me very well and given me benefits beyond belief. Have 3-4 months off per year and a pension plan that will pay my salary till the day I die and then pay my estate one year salary death bonus and then continue to pay my spouse my salary with increases until he (or she) dies and a health plan that most people can only dream of having i.e. no deductible whatsoever.

Despite this, I plan to take the next 12-18 months to find a new position. During this time I will show up for work when it is convenient for me. In addition, I fully expect to draw my full salary and all the other perks associated with my current job.

Oh yes, if my search for this new job proves fruitless, I will be coming back with no loss in pay or status. Before you say anything, remember that you have no choice in this matter. I can, and I will do this.

Sincerely,

Every Senator or Congressman running for re-election

Are we stupid or what?

 
B. Trenz Pruca’s Observations:

 

History: A few truths surrounded by a lot of little lies and one or two big ones.

 

 

 

 

TODAY’S QUOTE:

 

“If there is one person a fanatic is predisposed to hate, it’s a moderate who is almost but not completely aligned with their program.”

Stross, Charles. Dark State: A Novel of the Merchant Princes Multiverse (Empire Games) (p. 343). Tom Doherty Associates.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TODAY’S CHART:
FT_17.08.01_debt_interest_420px

 

Two interesting aspects of this chart:

1. In general, it shows that since the Reagan Administration, interest payments on the national debt as a percentage of GDP have generally risen during Republican administrations, while under the Democrats, it has usually fallen.

2. Trump has already sharply increased that percentage from what it was in the last few years of the Obama administration.
The relationship between interest payments on the federal debt and the nations GDP is perhaps the most critical relationship in the debate regarding the appropriate size of the Federal Debt. If the interest payments get too high then a nation generally has to raise taxes, reduce expenditures or modestly inflate the economy (usually by keeping interest rates low during a rising economy ) in order to retain its credit rating.

Raising taxes is problematical because those whose taxes should be raised are the same people who fund the election of those who would vote on the action.

Cutting expenditures has its problems also. There are really only three sources of governmental expenditures large enough to make a difference if cut, defense, social security, and Medicare. Cutting defense is problematical because defense funding also provides much of the income for those paying for the elections of those who would vote on the cuts while cutting the latter two would be unconscionable to anyone but elected Republicans.

Finally, moderate inflation by keeping interest rates low thereby reducing the value of the dollar also runs up against the opposition of those who fund the elections of those who would vote on any such approach. In this case, the creditor community, the banks, etc., who would oppose any approach that would make their loans less valuable in the future.

Until we find an alternative to the media-entertainment-financial control of the political system, the solution to the Republican policy of increasing the debt-payment problem while choosing the worst of the remedies will remain elusive.

 

 

 

 

 

TODAY’S PHOTOGRAPH:

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Exodus #6 a Wall Sculpture by Bruce West.

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This and that from re Thai r ment, by 3Th. 28 Shadow 0007 (July 18, 2018)

 

The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that, “My ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
~~Isaac Isimov (1980)

 

 

 

TODAY FROM ITALY:

 
A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN SICILY — GETTING THERE IS HALF THE FUN:

 

Following a delightful breakfast of coffee, brioche and a fried egg with pepper chips, we set off to Cosenza and the train station. After a series of the usual misadventures and annoyances, I boarded the train to Sicily. It was the same cattle car I remember from years ago when I used to take the dolorous train from Sicily to Rome, a train carrying the impoverished Sicilians to jobs in the North (Sicilian Il Norte) — standing room only for the 13-hour trip. This time there were no impoverished workers going north, but many not particularly impoverished people going south for whatever reason. Passengers still were standing in the aisles and sitting on one another’s laps. My reserved seat was among a group of young women and families going somewhere in the same direction I was. They did not appreciate my expropriation of the seat one member of the group occupied. She then continued the trip sitting in the lap of an older man accompanying them or walking up and down the aisles.

I was also disturbed by the loud braying voice of one of the men traveling with that particular group. I could not make up my mind if he was a “cafone” ( loud, ignorant and oblivious) or “pazzo” (crazy). I decided it was a little bit of both. Even those traveling with him seemed to either humor or ignore him. When the women next to me left the train at Messina, I moved into her seat by the window. He sat down next to me and began to fling his arms about, pester me with questions and opinions and generally acted grievously obnoxious. I seriously considered braining him with my cane. But, long checkered experience in dealing with situations like this has taught me to act like I understand nothing about the language, am old and feeble and a little bit addled and confused (which is not too hard to do at my age). Inevitably, they either give up in frustration or some woman comes to my aid and drives them off. It happened like that here. The women in the group began to yell at him and told him to stop bothering me. The high point of the trip other than when he got off the train was the crossing of the Straits of Messina on the train ferry.

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Scylla and Charybdis. (The Straits of Messina)

 

The trains were decoupled and stacked into the hold of the ferry. We disembarked the train and climbed to the top decks where we could sit, walk around, buy snacks and enjoy the half hour or so trip across the straits.

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The train ferry.

 

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Messina.
We disembarked at Messina. They reassembled the cars into several trains depending on their destination. Ours set out for Catania. Along the way, we passed Taormina and Mt, Etna blowing out smoke from its caldera.

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Mt. Etna.

 

I changed trains at Catania, boarding one for Caltanissetta where I expected to change trains once again to take me to my final destination, Canicatti the ancestral home of my mother’s family. Unfortunately, after arriving at Caltanissetta, while attempting to read the train schedule to find out from which track my connection would leave even though there was only one other train at the station, that train, my connection, left with me running after it banging at the side of the cars until it left me standing at the end of the platform forlorn and alone as the train disappeared into the distance.

I was truly alone and forlorn when I realized I was not at the train station in downtown Caltanissetta as I had thought, but in an almost derelict and abandoned station far out in the countryside at the end of an unpaved and weed overgrown dead end road — and the night was descending. It seems that that station was used only for passengers to disembark from the express train to Palermo and catch the now departed train to Caltanissetta Central and Canicatti. So I called up Antonio and asked him to come and save me. He good-naturedly agreed and explained it would take at least 45 minutes for him to get there. So, I stood there in the gloom and watched hoards of swallow type birds flitter through the sky in search of those insects who dare to come out at dusk, while a hawk sat calmly on a phone wire contemplating tonight’s dinner. A group of young men arrived driving a truck containing a jitney type vehicle in the back, They met some other men who came from somewhere I did not notice although one drove up in an old car with cardboard covering a broken window. They took the jitney down from the truck bed and began pushing it up a hill toward an abandoned building. The jitney got away from them and began rolling down the hill sending the men running in every direction. It then tipped over and skidded to the bottom of the hill. I thought I was watching a Buster Keaton silent film. They then all stood around — wondering what to do, I guess. I never found out what happened next because Antonio arrived and drove me to his home.

During the ride, I noticed much of the highway between Caltanissetta and Canicatti that they had been building two or three years ago when I had last been here has been completed. It is exceptionally lavish. Where it is not elevated it is tunneled. To construct the tunnels they first tear down the hill. Then they build the tunnel. Then they put the hill back on top of the tunnel. I’m not kidding.

When I first arrived in Sicily, now about 50 years ago, although the modern technology of the time, telephone, automobiles, television and the like had been well established but much of the social life of the people remained medieval — Marriages were arranged, dowries negotiated, crime of honor legal and common, crime organized, autocrats vicious, noble families if not admired then respected and government remote and rapacious. It was a place for travelers, not tourists, for those that traveled with no schedules expecting discomfort, not those with schedules, sights to see and an expectation of basic comforts. Yet, despite their suspicion of strangers, the people were welcoming when that suspicion waned, the food good, the wines better and the climate benign.

Since then, most of that has changed, the young are more independent (although my female cousins, PHDs all, will not leave the island even for brief periods without their mother’s consent), suspicion lessened, crime diminished, noble families dispersed and the government still corrupt but no longer remote. The food has not yet been completely homogenized to suit the food production industry and the wines are perhaps even better and while tourism has become accepted, old historical sights cleaned up and new ones developed, it is still not as easy to get around, make schedules and enjoy pure luxury (Taormina and a few other places accepted — but it was always like that). On the other hand, there are few places that afford the wanderer such a variety of experience, even ones that are not so good but, on the other hand, rarely so bad either.

My visits to Canicatti and to Antonio’s house are neither as a tourist or a traveler, but is simply returning home. As I grew older, I found, at least for me, there is no one “home,” a principle place of residence perhaps, but many homes identified by the fact that there reside, people, I love and like to be with. In Antonio’s case, there is also the food and the wine.

 

 

B. ANTONIO’S — THE FIRST NIGHT.

 

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A view of Canicatti. Antonio’s house is behind the tree on the left.
We arrived in Canicatti my mother’s ancestral home and drove on to Antonio’s house at the edge of the town. After getting settled in my room and meeting the new houseboy, a young man from Bangladesh whose name I cannot remember (Friday, the previous houseboy from Nigeria, left to sell shoes in Venice), Antonio suggested a light snack before retiring. I agreed. Here it is:

The first course, lamb stew piccante in tomato sauce.

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The second course, arancini con panel.

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The third course, melanzane parmigiana.

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The Fourth course, Pasta Norma.

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The Dessert, local berries, and lemon granita. All accompanied by wonderful red and white local wines and finished off with Limoncello and grappa.

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C. ANTONIO’S — DAY TWO.

 

The next day, following breakfast and a brief nap, I went for a walk. By that time most Sicilians had returned to their beds for their afternoon siesta. Antonio worried about me walking around during the hottest part of the day. He insisted I carry my phone and call him if I passed out from the heat.

It was hot. Antonio’s home stands at the border of the rural area and the commercial-industrial area of the town. I chose to walk into the rural lands. I walked along a mostly white stone covered unpaved road through some olive groves. The sun’s glare reflected off the white road hurt my eyes even though I was wearing dark glasses. Reaching the end of the road I was traveling on and sweating a lot, I decided to return to the house and take a nap until dinner — and so I did.

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Through the olive groves.

There were two couples and me at dinner. One couple from Germany traveling with a two-year-old boy, an inveterate explorer, were staying the week. The other, a delightful older English couple, were only staying the night. What follows is the meal:

The first course, four different local goat cheeses with a suitable different (local) fruit preserve on each,

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The second course, ripe fig from Antonio’s garden with speck, local goat ricotta with fruit preserve and fried squash blossoms.

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The Third and fourth courses were the same melanzane parmigiana and arancini as I had the previous night except I learned the parmesan cheese had been replaced with a local cheese.

 

The Fifth course, a soup, the ingredients of which I no longer recall, perhaps seafood.

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The Sixth course, mixed fresh local seafood and a vegetable of some sort.

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The Seventh course, local fish, the name of which I missed, cooked in an olive, caper and tomato sauce.

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The Dessert, the same local berries and lemon granita as I enjoyed last night followed by a flute of different local berries and a different granite. I have eliminated the photo here out of pure exhaustion.

We also drank copious amounts of delicious red and white wines from a vineyard located closer to Agrigento (Antonio seems to feel something grown ten or so miles away as not fitting his definition of “local.”) And of course, limoncello and grappa. We all got very drunk and began telling each other our deepest darkest secrets. Ok maybe not our deepest and darkest, we never tell those even when drunk, but we certainly told those that we would otherwise be embarrassed if anyone but our dearest friends knew about them.

I guess I should write a little something about Sicilian cuisine — at least as I understand it. It is not simply indigenous recipes made from fresh local products improved over the centuries by the addition of spices, condiments, and recipes to overcome whatever deficiencies existed in the local agricultural products. It is also a cuisine that requires the reuse of food not consumed the previous day, not by simply reheating leftovers, but as foundational elements in completely new recipes. Another element of the cuisine is its adoption and development of the tremendous variety of deserts and sweets gifted to them by the Muslim community that ruled the island for so many centuries. Finally, the use of sweet liquors in Sicily, like in much of southern Italy, appears to be some sort of a religious ritual to celebrate a meal well cooked and well eaten.

Note: I will no longer post photographs of each course I enjoy since that would extend this issue of T&T beyond tolerable limits.

 

 

D. ANTONIO’S — DAY THREE:

 

This morning, I decided to go into Canicatti to walk around, search out places I remembered from when I lived here 50 years ago and also do a little shopping. Antonio drove me to the center of the town and I set off walking.

Canicatti is not a tourist city, there is nothing to see here. Monuments built by the rich and famous are usually reserved for the hilltops where they lived in their grand villas and palaces. Canicatti, set in a broad agricultural valley, has always been a commercial town for the sale and distribution of agricultural products. It looks grubby but is actually more prosperous than it appears.

I found the park where my mother had told me she played in as a child before she was sent off at seven years old to America in the early Twentieth Century version of indentured servitude. It is now a scruffy little park. It was much grander fifty years ago when I first saw it.

I sat on a bench among other old men and listened to the harsh guttural tones of Sicilian that Marlon Brando mimicked in Godfather I. I wish I could say I thought deep thoughts as I sat there, but I didn’t.

I eventually left and walked through back alleys and streets looking for the cafe where I would sit with friends fifty years ago. The cafe with the bullet holes still in the walls. Bullet holes made by American soldiers in WWII in the Canicatti Massacre when the American commander lined up random citizens and had them shot as a punishment for the town harboring the Germans. The fact was, there never were any Germans there.

My friends and I would gather at the cafe and watch the white-suited Mafiosi stride into the place with their jackets draped over their shoulders and the furtive hand gestures among the other customers ringing as loudly as shouts. The cafe where I sat those long afternoons so long ago with Gigi, Piccolo Gaetano, and others. Alas, I think it is no more, swept up by the years like unwanted refuse.

I looked for the Landowner’s Social Club building that, so long ago, I sat in front of one afternoon with the Baron La Lomia, the head of the hereditary ruling family of the town, a fat overdressed little man with a great square beard who was making his annual appearance at his demesne. As each resident of the area would approach to pay their respects to the Baron, he would say to them “And, I would like you to meet my good friend Mr. Petrillo who traveled all the way from America to be with me today.” And, I would shake the hand of each person in that long line as they passed by. I could not find that place either. Did it exist and was eventually blown away as an anachronism like the dust and litter blowing around as I walk or was it simply my imagination? Who cares? There is no difference — imagination, memory, reality — all the same.

I also looked for the tiny park with the statue of the erstwhile patron saint of the town, the Blessed La Lomia, a missionary in Brazil killed by the natives who saw through the baloney he was trying to sell them. I could not find it. So I sat down outside of a little cafe across from the Church where I was to meet Antonio and ordered a coke and a lemon granita. I chose the cafe because the outdoor tables were shaded by a large tree and an awning.

Alas, I soon realized it was probably the place where the dregs of the town congregated. Those young people who lived at home had no job and wanted none. One table was occupied by a boisterous threesome, two young men, and a tiny young woman. One of the men would shout at me and make faces. The other young man and the tiny young woman would every now and then rise from their chairs and chase each other around the table, ending in a brief wrestling match. I do not know why they did it. A very large tattooed man carrying a beer came in, sat on a bench facing me, not more than three feet away, and stared at me for a long time, then declared “Hot isn’t it?” I agreed and responded, “Yes it is.” He continued to stare and sip his beer. Various people who seemed not in complete possession of their mental faculties would enter, wander around, and sometimes stand next to my table and stare at me. I loved it. The chances of anything dangerous happening was minuscule. Yet the frisson of excitement drove away any residual melancholy remaining from my walk around the town.

Dinner was the usual many course affair, a mixture of old and new. The new included a fava bean soup, crawfish and the melanzane parmigiana with capers and other savory items replacing the cheese. Dessert included cassata as well as the berry and granita dish.

At dinner tonight was an Argentine couple, Herman and Christina who live in Florida and run a business finding investment properties in the US for foreigners. They also have started up a treasure hunting business in Columbia to raise several sunken Spanish Galleons. The twist of this effort compared to other treasure hunting schemes is that instead of distributing the treasure to the investors as it is recovered which when attempted by traditional treasure hunts runs into severe legal and political problems, they intend to keep the treasure hoard intact, but use its value base for the creation of a new crypto-currency and pay the investors with the crypto-currency. Crazy perhaps. But, Trump made a career of persuading people to invest in much less and look where he ended up — the bitch for an insecure Russian autocrat who trapped him in a wired Moscow hotel room taking a golden shower.

As coincidence would have it, about twelve years ago, I had a small practice representing treasure hunters, almost all of whom failed. The dream never dies.

 

E. ANTONIO’S DAY FOUR:

 

Following another excellent breakfast, the Argentinian couple invited me to join them on a trip to the beach. They had asked Antonio to suggest a remote and secluded beach and he did — at a very remote and far distant location. We drove at least 40 miles before we turned off the main road and on to an unpaved track that wound its way through farmland with many abandoned farmhouses and a few appearing not so abandoned. We saw three maybe four very old men working in the fields, and a very old and hunchbacked shepherd driving a small flock of undernourished sheep — no-one else. At times, we drove through weed forests with the cane like stalks twice as high as the car cutting off all view. We drove for five or six miles up steep hills and through narrow canyons before we came to a dirt parking lot containing a few cars and a small shack with a somewhat rotund gentleman standing in front. He took our money and announced in very good English that it was at least a two-minute walk to a sandy beach where it was suitable for swimming which he called “Beach One.” “Beach Two,” he said, “was a ten-minute walk up the coast and was good for taking photographs but because it was rocky was not good for swimming but suitable for snorkeling.” Beach three he explained was a twenty-five-minute walk down the coast, but I forget what it was good for. We walked the allotted two minutes and came out of the towering weeds and saw a very attractive sandy beach containing a few bathers but still many more than I thought would ever chance the treacherous drive.

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Pookie at the beach.

 
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The Beach.

 
After setting up the umbrella in the sand, instead of going swimming, I abruptly announced I was going to hike the ten minutes to the photogenic beach, and then set off. I do not know why. I found a small weed overgrown path that seemed to climb up what appeared to be more than a hill but less than a mountain. After several minutes of climbing, huffing and puffing, and sweating profusely, I realized I was all alone on this steep rocky path that I knew not where it went, without water, becoming rapidly exhausted and convinced I was about to collapse. But like Scott in the Antarctic, foolishly pushing ahead only for the irrational pleasure of beating Amundsen, I went on. Like Scott, I thought I could beat Amundsen too,

I noticed the path was strewn with the bleached shells of snails. I could tell they were not laid down here due to some ancient geological catastrophe, they were strewn around not buried in rock hardened silt. I then imagined massive escargot eating rituals by Sicilian cultists in honor of Diana the Huntress every night of the full moon. But, finally decided they were simply the carcasses of egotistical land snails who believed they could make it across the blazing hot paths in the middle of the day and were fried for their arrogance. I picked up one desiccated bone white shell, put it in my pocket and continued struggling up the slope.

I little later, I came upon a single quill lying on the path. I stopped and stared at it and wondered what sort of quilled creature survived the five thousand year commitment by Sicilians to rid their island of every mammal except those they could domesticate and rats and mice. Unable to reach a conclusion, I picked it up and put it in my pocket too. I also picked up and pocked some interesting small stones and happily contemplated carrying them back home and washing them, not to study but to remind me that it was not a figment of my imagination that I chose to climb this damned path at midday.

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The Treasure.

 

 

Eventually, I reached the top and found myself on a high bluff overlooking a beach with no way down. I then realized I could have reached that same beach by simply walking a few feet from where I began and wading in ankle deep water around some rocks. Annoyed by this discovery, I began to retrace my steps. I was further annoyed when a family with two young children carrying beach equipment and towels jauntily passed me by having clearly enjoyed their morning at the ten-minute walk rocky photogenic beach.

When I returned to the Argentineans they were just packing up to leave. So, we left, renegotiated the weed jungle and drove another twenty miles or so to Sciacca to have lunch.

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The Photogenic beach?

 
Sciacca (pronounced Sha – ca) is a fairly large town on a hill near the water with an interesting if arcane history (look it up). At its base was a large working fishing port.

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The Port of Sciacca.

 
We entered a restaurant directly across the road from the port. It had a great view and served freshly caught fish. We chose our fish and from a comely waitress ordered them grilled and then ate them along with an extremely tasty salad.

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The fish.

 

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The comely waitress and the Argentinians.

 

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The cooked fish.

 

For dessert, I had cannoli made with local ricotta.
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The sacred cannoli.

 
On the way home, we came upon a traffic snarl caused by an electrical transmission wire having fallen across the road. There were no police or first responders anywhere so passengers would jump out of their cars hold the wire up over their heads while the driver drove the car through, then drop it and jump back into the car. Thinking I could be as brave and foolhardy as the women in the photograph below, I jumped out of our car, held the wire over my head until Herman drove under it and then jumped back into the car and we sped away. No, I did not die.
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The brave but foolhardy women of Sicily.

 
That night I played my first game of chess in 50 years with the German gentleman and I won. It took the sting out of Croatia’s loss in the World Cup final. There had been no meal prepared. Antonio was gone for the evening so we snitched some sausages he had cooking on the stove for tomorrows meal. I went to bed happy. It was a good day after all.

 

 

F. ANTONIO’S — DAY FIVE:

 

Today is my last full day here. Tomorrow, I fly to Milano and two days later back to the Enchanted Forest and Naida. I am both sad and eager to go. Sad because I feel so comfortable and relaxed here and eager to go because I feel too comfortable and relaxed here. Too much of a good thing can become irritating if it goes on too long.

After breakfast, I said goodbye to the Argentineans. Then Antonio, the Bangladesh houseboy and I left for Licata, a town on the coast, to buy some fresh fish for tonight’s meal. I pictured a large fish market open to the fishing boats tied up to the wharves, burly men pushing crates around slick cement floors while fishmongers in their stalls lined up their wares with military precision on beds of gleaming ice. It was not like that at all. It was more like a dope deal. First a stop on a remote road on the edge of the city for a telephone call. Then two more stops at gas stations for more calls. Then a wait in a cafe drinking espresso until a man arrived and engaged Antonio in a whispered conversation. Then we get back in the car and follow the man’s car through the back roads of the city until we both come to a stop on the side of the road and Antonio and the man get out of their cars and walk around a building and disappear for a fairly long while. Then Antonio returns with a small plastic bag that I presume contained the fish and we drove off returning the 50 or so kilometers to Canicatti.

Back in town, I asked Antonio to drop me off at the church so I could go to the bank and withdraw the money I would need to pay for my stay. The charges amounted to about $70 per day for the room, breakfast, and dinner and all the wine, grappa and limoncello one can drink. It is not so bad a deal when I consider that I probably drank $20 worth of alcoholic beverages each day.

After, withdrawing the money, I returned to strolling around the town looking for places I knew — no luck there. I then looked for the ice-cream shop I had spotted two days before that made the best ice–cream in the area — but it was closed. I then thought about walking up the hill to where my mother lived in a section of the city called the Borgo, the old center of the town before they filled in the stream from which the town got its name (Cane Brook, for the dense cane like plants that flourished along its banks. Wikipedia, on the other hand, says it comes from the Arabic word meaning “muddy ditch”). I thought it would be good to see my mom’s old house again. But, I looked up at the hill I would have to climb, felt the heat of the sun and concluded it was not going to happen on this trip, so, I chose to sit in a cafe on the main street drinking a very good chilled white wine and nibbling on the little snacky things they brought me. Around me sat a number of young men and women. The men all had beards and the women all had tattoos. In my day, the men all had beards also.

I napped the afternoon away.

That evening, my last here, Antonio made dinner for only him and me. There was a wonderful salad of vegetables picked that day from the garden including sweet onions all in a vinegar, olive oil, and pepper dressing. He also broke out his favorite local white wines from Canicatti. Since he was busy cooking I drank most of the wine.

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He indicated we were going to have a light dinner this evening. For pasta, he prepared a dish with zucchini and mushrooms.
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Then came the fish course.

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Antonio with the fish.

 

I do not know if that was the fish we pursued that morning, but it seemed like a lot of fish for two people. It was cooked with oranges, capers, and tomatoes in olive oil. After, deboning and serving the fish, Antonio brought out another bottle of white wine from Canicatti vineyards. “This,” he said, “is the best white in Sicily and perhaps is all of Italy.” While the previous bottle was made from Grillo grapes, this he said was made from a blending of four local grape varieties.

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The Great White.

 

The white wines from Sicily I have tasted so far on this trip have been very smooth and suitable for drinking with food or alone. They seem to lack that slightly astringent aftertaste of other expensive white wines.

After the fish course and having downed most of two bottles of wine, I was —well drunk or at least well on my way.

Dessert was a cassata followed by an absolute smashing mulberry granita accompanied by limoncello (a lot of it) but no grappa.

I was helped off to bed and woke up the next morning with no hangover.

 
G. DEPARTURE

 

Breakfast, some puttering around packing and then Antonio drove me into town to catch the bus to the airport. Hugs and kisses all around. Then a two hour or so ride through an ofter relatively bleak and empty Sicilian countryside I arrived at the Airport waited for several hours and flew off to Milano.

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The Sicilian Countryside on the way to Catania.

 

 

 

 

DAILY FACTOID:

 

From Harper’s index: Minimum number of scientific papers published on nomophobia, the fear of not having access to cellular service: 55
Sigh — modern life can be so stressful. Bring back public phone booths with internet connections and save us from this debilitating affliction.

 

 

 

 

PEPE’S POTPOURRI:

 
A. Matthews’ Musings:

 

Jason Matthews, a retired CIA operative with extensive experience in Russia, in his espionage thriller “Red Sparrow” expresses what are clearly his own feelings about Putin’s Russia through the words of one of his fictional characters.

“Energy, population decline, natural resources, client states. Forget all that. Russia is still the only country that can put an ICBM into Lafayette Square across from the White House. The only one, and they have thousands of nukes.”

“Russians. They hate foreigners only a little less than they hate themselves, and they’re born conspirators. Oh, they know very well they’re superior, but your Russki is insecure, wants to be respected, to be feared like the old Soviet Union. They need recognition, and they hate their second-tier status in the superpower stakes. That’s why Putin’s putting together USSR 2.0, and no one is going to stand in his way. “The Vkid who pulls the tablecloth and smashes the crockery to get attention—that’s Moscow. They don’t want to be ignored and they’ll break the dishes to make sure it doesn’t happen. Sell chemical weapons to Syria, give fuel rods to Iran, teach Indonesia centrifuge design, build a light water reactor in Burma, oh, yeah, people, nothing’s out of bounds. “But the real danger is the instability of all this generation of world-stopping crazies. People, the second Cold War is all about the resurgent Russian Empire, and don’t kid yourselves Moscow is gonna sit back and see how the Chinese navy handles itself when—not if—the shooting starts in the Taiwan Strait.”

Matthews, Jason. Red Sparrow: A Novel (The Red Sparrow Trilogy Book 1) (p. 28). Scribner.

 
B. Giants of History: Pat Carlone:

 

Peter, after reading the previous T&T post, was reminded of his old friend, Pat Carlone.

Our friend Pat Carlone hails from Calabria via New Britain, Conn. Your travel descriptions help explain some of Pat’s endearing bizaarisms. FYI, we enjoyed his aging parents dancing on a table at Spengers around midnight at one of Pat’s birthday celebrations some years ago. Pat, who used to play trumpet, piano, and accordion, was the guy who nudged me to start playing jazz bass back on the 1970s. He lived for a short time with our friend Howard over what was then a laundromat on the corner of 24th St. and Diamond St., which we used to frequent before we acquired our mechanical improvements. Remind me to tell you a couple of vignettes about Pat’s peregrinations before his rendezvous with Lois Lane.

Now doesn’t that last line make you just salivate to learn more about Carlone’s peregrinations and rendezvous with Lois Lane? I can see many a long afternoon at the Geezer Bench listening to Peter’s stories.

 

 

 

 

TODAY’S QUOTES:

 
Two from Kieran Healy (@kjhealy) on gun violence in America:

“In any case, over a few decades, the US got nudged into a terrible but stable equilibrium by gun hobbyists, at an annual cost of 10,000 homicides and 20,000 suicides. At this point, the issue is less “policy” and more whether there’ll be some tectonic shift in public opinion.”

“Most policy discussions are beside the point, too. There will be no Port Arthur or Dunblane moment in the US. The main response will be to further entrench a layer of consultants whose job is to socialize children into the expectation that they might be murdered in their classrooms.”

:

Categories: July through September 2018, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This and that from re Thai r ment, by 3Th. 7 Shadow 0007 (June 27, 2018)

“Putin covets. He wants what others have. And the taking of something from someone is the ultimate delectation.”

Matthews, Jason. Palace of Treason: A Novel (The Red Sparrow Trilogy Book 2) (p. 110). Scribner.

 

REMEMBER, JULY 15 IS “NATIONAL BE A DORK DAY”

 

 

 

 

TODAY FROM ITALY:

 

A. POOKIES PREPARATION FOR A VOYAGE.

In two days, I will fly off to Italy and stay there for about six weeks. On one hand, it is no big deal — you know, been there done that — although I hope to visit a few places I have not seen before. On the other hand, I have passed my do by date and the immortal stage hand’s sweaty fingers await the directors signal to draw the final curtain. — — Well, that is a little bit overdramatic. Actually, age tires most of us out. It certainly does me. Sometimes, watching the sunrise and the sunset seems to be a pretty cool experience and quite enough for me for that day and if I want to laugh or cry, a smartphone can do wonders for connecting with relatives and friends who live far away,

Just before I began writing this, I noticed an article entitled the Meaning of Life saved on my desktop for some long forgotten reason. It gives a brief discussion of what each major religion or philosophical school believes that meaning to be. I thought about what I had read and tried to figure out what it means to me. The best I could come up with is: if I feel good, then life is good and if I don’t feel so good, then it’s not so good.

I think that makes me an epicurean or a Monte Pythonian. The latter postulated the “Meaning of Life” that it is:

“Well, it’s nothing very special. Uh, try to be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try to live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

Hmm, I think I like that — the answer to any inquiry about what or who you are — “I am a Monty Pythonian.” Works for me.

The Saturday before departure, Naida and I attended the morning coffee held every Saturday by our section of the Enchanted Forest HOA. One of the women who seemed in charge announced the birthdays of those in attendance at the coffee and the deaths of those who were not. Another woman, several years older than I named Winnifred (Winnie), engaged me in conversation. I later learned she found me “interesting.” Perhaps, I can become a geriatric boy toy. I also had a spirited discussion with Naida, another woman and a retired teacher regarding the persecution of Native Americans, a subject the retired teacher will be lecturing on at something called The Renaissance Society, an adult education organization at the nearby university. Could I be becoming acculturated to the senior community of the Enchanted Forest? I can envision myself eventually becoming like some elderly elve strolling among the trees with the other ancient elves talking of shoes, ships, candlewax and whatever.

 

B. ACROSS THE LAND AND OVER THE SEA.
Travel may be annoying at times but almost always interesting. For example, while loading for my flight from NY to Milano, a little old lady (younger than me I think) struggled to put her exceedingly heavy suitcase in the overhead bin across the aisle from me. I jumped up and helped her stow it. She then went into the restroom. A young man wearing a NY Police Department tee shirt then came along and tried to get his luggage into the same bin in which the old lady had put her suitcase (there were plenty of other empty bins). He could not fit it in. Frustrated, he ripped the woman’s suitcase out of the bin and threw it on the floor. “Hey,” I said, “What the fuck do you think you are doing?” ( just so you will not confuse my action for senseless chivalry: One, I was still p.o.’d from the unpleasant twelve hours I had sat in the airport’s departure lounge and Two, it takes me only a few hours of being in NY to acculturate myself to its mores and manner of interpersonal colloquy). “I’m sitting here,” he said in Italian pointing to the seat directly under the bin. “The bin is mine. It has the same number,” he added this time indicating the row number. As we faced off, LOL emerged from the toilet, eyed her suitcase on the floor, quickly took in the prancing bulls locking horns and with an annoyed snort, hauled the suitcase off the floor, slammed it into an empty bin and took her seat next to mine. The young man and I glanced at one another and sheepishly returned to our seats never to look at one another again during the entire flight.

I arrived early morning in New York’s Kennedy Airport. I was listed standby for the flight to Milano. Unfortunately, the plane was overbooked so I had to wait twelve hours to be admitted into the departure area. During that time, I mostly sat and stared. I tried to eat a hot dog while I waited for my Mac and iPhone to recharge. As with the last two times, I tried to eat a hotdog, a piece lodged in my throat and I ended up spitting bits of the dog across the table. Instead of wondering whether I was going to die as I usually do, I wondered how embarrassed I was going to be. Not much as it turned out. I was back home in NY after all.

 
C. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN LOMBARDY OR MORE ACCURATELY THE LACK THEREOF.

I landed in Milano. Nikki met me there and immediately announced he was leaving the following morning for Thailand despite the fact that he urged me to travel early so that we could spend some time together. I said, “Tell me, Nikki, isn’t it true that as soon as SWAC heard we were going to spend some time together she told you to leave immediately because she needed you to deliver some cheese and salami to her bar in Thailand.” After a short period of prevaricating, he agreed that was pretty much what happened. As Vitorio pointed out a few days later when I told him the story, “Nikki’s mind turns to mush whenever he talks to the SWAC.” Despite this minor flaw, he remains one of my dearest friends and can make the dreariest of days delightful.

The next morning, following some delicious pastry at a local cafe bakery, I left for Sacile by train. I was not particularly unhappy. As I said, it is the annoyances that make travel interesting. On the other hand, I could just as well have stayed home and fallen down the stairs and get to enjoy the same experience without having to fly half-way around the world.

 

D.TAMAI AND SACILE — IN THE HEART OF THE VENETO.
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Tamai and Sacile sit on the fertile flat plains of the Veneto that lie just beneath the rise of the pre-Alps jutting into the sky

 
After a good night’s sleep and a breakfast of coffee and toast, I walked the half-mile or so into Tamai the small village that sits in the middle of the farm country it serves — Its church bell tower rising higher than anything else. The bell tower used to provide the farmworkers in the fields with the time, now it serves as the romantic focal point for this scenic northern Italian town in the Veneto.
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I walked past well-tended houses on their half an acre to acre lots, fruit trees and vegetable gardens co-existing with clipped lawns and florid flower gardens. Behind the houses stretched the farmland all a deep green with vineyards, corn, and alfalfa fields. The latter two secondary crops are grown to feed the meat and dairy products industry somewhere else in the Veneto.

It used to be that these farmlands were owned and worked on by those who lived in those nice well-maintained houses. With the aging of the farmers and changes in the industry, the fields were leased out or sold by the owners of those houses and are now farmed by industrial conglomerates whose offices are located in the big city financial centers. In the well-tended houses, many of the aging farmers still live. Their children, however, have gone to seek employment in those same financial centers. When I look around me I think of how well these communities would serve as ideal senior communities — but then again they already are.

I had coffee and a delicious pastry at the New Life Cafe one of the two cafes in the town. After an hour or so, I left and walked to the other cafe, the Central Tamai Bar, and had another coffee and pastry and then walked back to the farmhouse and took a nap. As I was falling asleep, I contemplated the benefits of traveling four days from where I can enjoy a comfortable nap any time I want, to someplace else where I do the same thing. I decided, it is much sweeter as a reward.

IMG_4718Pookie at the New Life Cafe in Tamai
That evening, Vittorio, Anita and I went to a cafe we often visit when I am in town. It is a place where musicians frequently congregate although there was no music that night as everyone was watching Croatia defeat the heavily favored team from Argentina in their World Cup match.
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Anita and Vittorio at the cafe.

A few days went by until Professor Hank (Hank Schwartz — “Black Henry” in English) and his wife, Camille, the couple I would be traveling with to Croatia and Calabria, arrived and met us at Lucia’s Le Petit Cafe (the happiest place on earth) for several morning glasses of Prosecco. Hank who is an economics professor at some college in New Jersey and staunch, if gentle, Republican and I had a lighthearted discussion of current American and Italian politics. Italy is going through a similar collapse of the body politic as the US (although they are more used to it). The North has succumbed to the argument of the radical right that they are being invaded by hoards of black people landing on their beaches (alas, building a wall would be impractical). They also have accepted the canard that the south of Italy receives an unfair amount of government handouts and its people are lazy and corrupt (corrupt perhaps, but lazy, no. Good corruption requires significant effort). I asked one man who was making this point how he would feel if the situation was reversed and the Veneto was destitute as it had been at times in the past. He said he was all for one part of the country assisting the other during a time of need, but in this case, it was too much.
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Camille, Lucia, Black Henry and Past Primetime Pookie.

That night we gathered at Teacher Brian’s house. There were four couples and me — Hank and his wife Camille, Vitorio and Anita, a pilot for Air Italy named Alessio and his girlfriend, and Brian and his wife who he met in Korea when he taught at the American Embassy there. We had a good time. For the first time in two years, I was able to drink too much (Prosecco, Grappa, a Japanese Grappa like drink, etc.)

The next day I strolled around Sacile, one of my favorite places on earth. They were having their once a month Flea market in the Town Square. I enjoyed rummaging around in Italian garbage as a change from rummaging through American garbage as I do at Denio’s in Roseville. Italians seem to like to throw out a lot of old coins and old letters. At Denio’s, the refuse is predominately toys, clothing and old tools.

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A view of Sacile

Later I went to professor Hank’s apartment where we planned our trip. First to Croatia for two days, then the long drive through Italy to Matera stopping two nights along the way. At one of the stops, we reserved rooms in a nice hotel high on a hill overlooking the Bay of Naples. Then off to Maratea on the Calabrian coast and spending the night at the Altamonte hotel where according to Hank they serve “the best Calabrian food in the world.” Then, the next morning, off to Cosenza where I stay the night before boarding the train for Sicily.
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A View of Sacile from Professor Hank’s apartment.

Today I learned I have a mouse that shares my room with me. I am staying in the family room in the basement of Vitorio’s house in Tamai. I sleep on a temporary cot that sits low to the floor. At eye level, to my left, as I lie on my bed is a bench. Periodically, the mouse scampers along the bench, stops to check on me, then satisfied that I am ok scurries back to wherever he came from.

During my morning walk today into Tamai and back, I took a path through the town I had not taken before. Although the town has no more than six or eight streets, I found it contained a surprisingly modern and well-equipped sports stadium. Following my morning coffee in the New Life Cafe and a prosecco at the Central, I returned to Vitorio’s for lunch where for the first time in my life I tasted fried chicken blood. It was not as bad as it sounds.

This morning, I awoke much earlier than I should. I laid in bed waiting for my friend the mouse to check up on me. I have named him Topo Tamai, the Mouse of Tamai. By the way, in case you are interested, Tamai refers to the containers or barns in which you store cow dung until it can be used as fertilizer. I guess you could call the town “Compost.” At least that is not as bad as Booger Hole, West Virginia or Toad Suck, Arkansas.

Vittorio and Anita provide care for his 94-year-old mother and his 83-year-old mentally retarded diabetic aunt. Both women are confined to wheelchairs but eat all meals with us. Every morning at about 7:30 Vitorio’s two sisters arrive like the Marines at Iwo Jima. They burst through the door, wash, dress and strap the two woman into their respective wheelchairs. Then they strip the beds, clean the rooms, deposit the women at the table for breakfast and are out of the house by 8 o’clock. I am impressed by their synchronized efficiency.

Tomorrow I leave for Verona and perhaps Bolzano before returning to Milano for four days. Then I come back here and set off for Croatia.

I left the house at about 9:30 this morning. It was beautiful outside — the temperature almost perfect, the mountains glistening like silver ingots lying on blue silk, the few clouds fleecy and pure white floated around the peaks, the fields a deep dark green and flowers everywhere. It was that beauty that makes you believe that if you had the choice of all the places in the world to be at that moment, you would choose here — for a few minutes at least, perhaps an hour or so. Pure beauty if held for more than a few minutes is a form of death or at least ennui.

I walked into Tamai. I stopped at the New Life this morning for coffee and a brioche. Instead of my morning prosecco at Central, I strolled along a different road, one that led out of town to the east. I soon came across a bridge over a pretty little stream. I walked along the banks of the stream through a copse of trees much larger than I had seen in the area before. Eventually, I came to another road and followed it back to Vitorio’s for lunch.
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Then, off to Verona.

 

E. A LITTLE BIT OF SNARK.
Verona the city of Romeo and Juliet, two dimwitted self-absorbed children living in a completely insane society. They should have been kept under lock and key instead of allowed to hang out under balconies looking for sex or prowling about at night getting into switchblade fights or rifling the medicine cabinet for drugs. Rather than “But soft, what light through younger window breaks,” Romeo could just as well have recited Hamlet’s palaver with old Yorick’s skull — “to die to sleep, to sleep perchance to dream.” Wasn’t that really the choice these pre-adolescent half-wits were given — to die or to sleep, to be or not to be?

 

F. NOT A BOOK REPORT:

As we all know, there has been a lot of public discussion about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In 2013, Jason Matthews, a recently retired CIA agent began publishing an international espionage thriller trilogy. Mathews was an officer of the CIA’s Operations Directorate. Over a thirty-three-year career, he served in multiple overseas locations and engaged in the clandestine collection of national security intelligence, specializing in denied-area operations (e.g., Russia). Matthews conducted double agent recruitment operations against Soviet-East European, East Asian, Middle Eastern, and Caribbean targets. As Chief in various CIA Stations, he collaborated with foreign partners in counterproliferation and counterterrorism operations.

His first book, Red Sparrow, was made into a recently released movie that caught the flavor of the book even if it did not quite follow its specific plot. One of the aspects of the book that the movie does not cover is Matthews’ deep analysis of and antipathy for Vladimir Putin, his goals and the government that he set up — a government Mathews considers not significantly different from what existed in Stalin’s time except that the Soviet Commissars have been replaced by the capitalist oligarchs. In the novel, one of Mathews’ characters states:

“The Rodina, sacred Motherland of black earth and endless sky, would have to endure a while longer, as the chain-wrapped corpse of the Soviet was exhumed, hauled dripping out of the swamp, and its heart was started again, and the old prisons were filled anew with men who did not see it their way.”

Matthews, Jason. Red Sparrow: A Novel (The Red Sparrow Trilogy Book 1) (p. 27). Scribner.

In 2015, still before the 2016 US election, Mathews published his second Novel Palace of Treason in which he further dissects the character and motivation of the autocrat that now runs the Kremlin. After the thwarting of a Putin initiative in Iran, Mathews explores the Russian leader’s popularity, motivations, and goals:

“Kakaya raznitsa, who cares,” thought Putin, flipping the folder closed and tossing it into an outbox of white Koelga marble. He didn’t give a shit; global imbalance, confusion, and chaos suited him and Russia just fine. Maybe this fire was the work of the Americans or the Israelis, or maybe those Persian babuiny, baboons, didn’t know how to handle uranium. Well, he had long since received the money from Tehran for the shipment, and “investors’ deposits” had been made—Govormarenko had already divvied up the euros. Never mind; when the Iranians were ready to rebuild, Russia would step up with equipment and expertise to assist. At à la carte prices.”

“And let them try to rile up the Caucasus—no chance, he had his domestic audience well in hand. Ninety-six percent of Russians approved of his recent military initiatives in Ukraine; ninety-five percent of them believed that America was goading fractious Kiev to persecute ethnic Russians in that country. Ninety-two percent believed—no, knew—that the same situation existed in Russian enclaves in the Caucasus, Moldova, Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia. Opportunities would present themselves. They always did.”

“He would keep an eye on the oligarchs. They were rumbling about their money troubles in the face of Western banking sanctions. Nothing a few corruption trials and prison sentences wouldn’t smooth out. Massive gas and oil deals with China, India, and Japan would take the teeth out of the sanctions soon enough. And he would continue to defame and stress the NATO weak-sister coalition. Conditions were right to shatter the Euro-Atlantic alliance once and for all, which would be redress for the dissolution of the USSR. With NATO razed to the ground, the Czech-Polish missile shield proposal would no longer be a worry.”

Matthews, Jason. Palace of Treason: A Novel (The Red Sparrow Trilogy Book 2) (p. 468). Scribner.

It seems that with Putin’s success in affecting the US election and the suborning the American president he helped elect, the shattering the Euro-Atlantic alliance depicted in the novel as his obsession is exactly what Putin has accomplished in reality now three years later. Given his position in the CIA and the fact that the novels were reviewed and approved for publication by that agency, I suspect Mathews intended them to be more factual and cautionary than fictional and prescient. In other words, a warning that sadly went unheeded. Russia remains our enemy.

 

 

 

 

 

PETRILLO’S COMMENTARY:

 

 

Recently, in discussions with several of my better educated conservative friends, I was told that there existed a Harvard conducted study that found that Faux News was the least biased of the mainstream media purveyors of news. I told them I found it hard to believe and if true it was an outlier to otherwise consistent findings of the exact opposite in almost all other studies. I suggested it should be treated as such an outlier and ignored. They did not agree.

Upon returning home, I decided to research this anomaly in my understanding (an indication that I lack things of any significance with which to occupy my time). I found the only outlets to reference such a study were a few conservative blogs (“conservative” being a charitable description on my part). So, I decided to go and read the source of the inference, the study itself. The study was conducted under the auspices of the Harvard Kennedy School and the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy by a Professor Thomas E. Patterson. It certainly did not conclude what the conservative blogs said it did. .

What it did find was that since 1963 with the move of broadcast television to longer newscasts and moving picture based news, reporting of negative events (negative news) by media outlets increased. This is why, for example, automobile accidents (random acts of violence but good pictures) receive more press attention than random acts of kindness (no matter how hard the station may try to balance the coverage). The author of the report specifically warns against considering negative news as either biased or fake. The automobile accident in the example happened. It was not fake news. The reporting of it was not biased. The Trump stories themselves are not biased.

The report further points out that by far the greatest imbalance of negative over positive news occurred during Clinton’s presidency — greater than any other in modern history, although Trump is well on his way to exceeding that record. They do point out, however, that the media reported far more positive stories about Trump during the nomination process than it did about his competitors.

While Clinton complained bitterly that the press rarely included his administration’s defense of its actions and policies in the negative stories, that is not the case with Trump. In 65% of negative news stories about him, Trump himself was the featured speaker. Also, Republicans within and outside of the administration accounted for an unprecedented 80% of what newsmakers said about Trump’s presidency. Democrats had only 6% of the sound bites with protestors garnering a meager 3% more.

In general, Trump and his administration have had a much greater opportunity to tell his side of the story than most. For purposes of comparison, the study points out that unlike Trump and his supporters who accounted for the above 80% of the commentary, Muslims provided only 6% of the commentary on issues relating to Islam.

Faux News, clearly an outlier in terms of negative news about the president, reported more positive stories about Trump than the other outlets. It made up for its discrepancy in negative stories by finding very few good things to say about the public and Judicial response to Trump’s actions.

Still, the sheer volume of negative stories is approaching and undoubtedly will surpass that of Clinton. So what accounts for that? Perhaps the answer is contained In the words of the author of the report, “The early days of his presidency have been marked by far more missteps and miss-hits, often self-inflicted, than any presidency in memory, perhaps ever.”

 

DAILY FACTOIDS:

 

I) There is a company, Dopamine Labs that provides tools to App developers to make any App more addictive or to reduce the desire to continue a behavior that is undesirable.
2)  According to the historian Strabo, within a few years of the (Roman Empire) occupation of Egypt, 120 Roman boats were sailing for India each year from the port of Myos Hormos on the Red Sea.
Frankopan, Peter. The Silk Roads: A New History of the World (pp. 15-16). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.  

PEPE’S POTPOURRI:

 

 

A. The Most Significant Post You Will Never Read:
In his blog, Charlie Stross reproduces the keynote speech he gave at the 34th Chaos Communication Congress. The speech is, as he says,”polemical, intended to highlight the existence of a problem and spark a discussion, rather than a canned solution. After all, if the problem was easy to solve it wouldn’t be a problem, would it?”
Stross has some interesting insights into a few of the fundamental issues of our time such as what is AI and what is its role in the future of humanity. His oblique look at many of the issues raised from those questions alone is worth the read. For example, the following rumination about what he calls “very slow AIs,” modern corporations:
Corporations are cannibals; they consume one another. They are also hive superorganisms, like bees or ants. For their first century and a half, they relied entirely on human employees for their internal operation, although they are automating their business processes increasingly rapidly this century. Each human is only retained so long as they can perform their assigned tasks, and can be replaced with another human, much as the cells in our own bodies are functionally interchangeable (and a group of cells can, in extremis, often be replaced by a prosthesis). To some extent, corporations can be trained to service the personal desires of their chief executives, but even CEOs can be dispensed with if their activities damage the corporation, as Harvey Weinstein found out a couple of months ago.”
“Finally, our legal environment today has been tailored for the convenience of corporate persons, rather than human persons, to the point where our governments now mimic corporations in many of their internal structures.”
“The problem with corporations is that despite their overt goals—whether they make electric vehicles or beer or sell life insurance policies—they are all subject to instrumental convergence insofar as they all have a common implicit paperclip-maximizer goal: to generate revenue. If they don’t make money, they are eaten by a bigger predator or they go bust. Making money is an instrumental goal—it’s as vital to them as breathing is for us mammals, and without pursuing it they will fail to achieve their final goal, whatever it may be. Corporations generally pursue their instrumental goals—notably maximizing revenue—as a side-effect of the pursuit of their overt goal. But sometimes they try instead to manipulate the regulatory environment they operate in, to ensure that money flows towards them regardless.”
In his discussion, he maintains that regulation is the only tool available to prevent the instrumental convergence of corporations (the need for profit) and other, swifter AIs from behaving uncontrollably and running amok. Unfortunately, this same need will also impel them to seek to manipulate the regulatory agencies for advantage instead of competing within the system. To me, this implies the need for regulation that absolutely prohibits and prevents AIs whether slow moving or fast, from influencing the rulemaking that affects them — fat chance that.
Some time ago, in Trenz Pruca’s Journal, I published a brief post on Decentralized Autonomous Corporations (DAC) https://trenzpruca.wordpress.com/2015/09/16/the-inheritors/. DAC’s are corporations run “without any human involvement, under control of an incorruptible set of business rules.”
Like most corporations, they generally cannot be terminated except by the investors, often have more rights than ordinary citizens and cannot be imprisoned if they break the law. Their investors, shielded by law, are responsible only to the extent of their monetary investment for the actions of their creation. If therefore, Stross is correct that the AIs, whether fast or slow, are subject to uncontrollable instrumental convergence* what happens to us?
* Instrumental convergence — the act of implacably moving toward uniformity to the exclusion of or the consuming of all else. e.g., in the case of making a profit, ultimately to the exclusion of all conflicting goals. A form of institutional autism.
B. Trenz Pruca’s Observations:
The cradle of civilization lies not on the banks of any river or ocean but on the banks of the ancient so-called Silk Routes. For over two millennia the Silk Routes crossed the central Asian expanse along which flowed the worlds riches and nourished the great centers of civilization. The maritime trade routes across the Mediterranean were a lusty but modest imitation. Europe was an economic, political and technological backwater. Then suddenly in the Fifteenth Century along the east and west coasts of the vast Eurasian landmass, the beginnings of a vast nautical revolution was born. The nations of the East ultimately turned their back on its promise but in the West, vast oceanic trade routes grew to create new great commercial centers. The efficiency of oceangoing trade was so much greater than the land-based Silk Routes that the magnificent cities and civilizations that had grown up along it shriveled up and died.
C. Today’s Poem:

Medicate You

Resist your temptation to lie
By speaking of separation from God,

Otherwise,
We might have to medicate
You.

In the ocean
A lot goes on beneath your eyes.

Listen,
They have clinics there too
For the insane
Who persist in saying things like:

“I am independent from the
Sea,

God is not always around

Gently
Pressing against
My body.”

HAFIZ

From: ‘The Gift’
Translated by Daniel Ladinsky

 

 

 

TODAY’S QUOTE:

 

“If there is a Darwinian lesson to be extracted from the history of the 20th century, it is probably that the poor require constant protection from the ideologies of the overwealthy and underpigmented.”
Jonathan Marks, Anthropomics (http://anthropomics2.blogspot.com/ )

 

 

 

TODAY’S PAINTING:

Pasted Graphic

Nude in Red by Roger Smith.

 

 

 

 

TODAY’S PHOTOGRAPH:

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Keep on Truckin…

 

 

 

Categories: April through June 2018, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This and that from re Thai r ment. June 18, 2010

This is the so-called slow season in Thailand, heat, monsoon storms and a dearth of tourists. All three are ok especially the last. Not that I have anything special against tourists, but with their declining numbers the prices decline as well. It also appears as though everyone has lost about 100 pounds. I guess it is good for the Thai environment if not so for the economy.

I plan to travel to Bangkok on Sunday to handle some business at the American Embassy and then I am off to Paradise in the Mountains for a few days. It seems as though Hayden is having some minor problems and since SWAC is not there, I will try to help out. I will probably return depressed.

Nothing on the Thai political front of note. Even “Red Shirt Gossip” network has been silent.

Not too far away, it looks like the “Great Game” is afoot again in the too many consonant Stans. For those who have not taken world history in a while, in the 18th, 19th and early part of the 20th Centuries, Russia, Great Britain and China engaged in an extended game of “Spy vs. Spy” over control of the passes through the high mountains between north and south Asia, a portion of which was called the Hindu Kush. It seems they are at it again except the US has taken Great Britain’s place at the table.

The latest flare up on the road to Armageddon is in the what I call the lesser Stans, Kyrgyz, Uzbek and Tajik ( As opposed to the Greater Stans. Afghan, Pak and Kazakh–I do not know whether Turkmen is a Greater or Lesser Stan).

Old Joe Stalin, the almost forgotten beloved “Uncle Joe,” did not have enough white Russians to resettle on this portion of the Russian Border to protect mother Russia from the Turk or whomever. Remember at this time 20 million or so of them were busy being slaughtered in the most recent Slavic-Teuton struggle over who would have the right to kill the jews in the Pale. So crafty old Uncle Joe took a large fertile valley, the only piece of land in the area worth anything since most of the rest was mountain. and gave it to the Uzbeks, except that the Uzbeks lived on the other-side of the mountains and the only way into the valley was through a very long narrow pass that that scamp Uncle Joe gave to the Tajik and to add to the hilarity of the situation, Joe the Comedian gave the foothills surrounding the valley to the Kyrgyz who although they could look down on the Uzbeks in their happy valley from their towns on the foothills they could not defend those same towns because they also lived on the other-side of the mountains from the valley on the side opposite the Uzbeks .

Now the USA , assuming the role of merry old England in the Greater Stans of Afghan and Pak (The role of winning the battles and ultimately losing the war) decides to put its supply bases in the land of the Kyrgyz over the mountains from Happy Valley and make many of the Kyrgyz rich. The Kyrgyz than take that money and begin a pogrom against the Uzbeks living in the foothills overlooking their brethren working their farms below. The new Kyrgyz government although gaining power through a nationalist revolution claims surprise at the continuing turmoil. They also need help to stop the pogrom before the Uzbeks decide to assist their oppressed cousins across the border.

What to do? What to do? They cannot ask the Americans because the Americans being the new English do not see the Lesser Stans as in their interest and it would piss off the Russians to wake up with the Anglo-americans acting on their turf so to speak, so they have asked the Russians for help. What happens next? Will China, with its already unhappy Uzbeks and Kyrgyz in its western provinces feel threatened? What the hell is everyone fighting for anyway? The great game was about trade routes. Is this all about mineral resources? Is it another man-thing? Stay tuned for as the world turns.

Meanwhile in the Greater Stans the Nato forces are engaged in a war of attrition to punish and retaliate against the ex Afghan government for allowing their country to shelter a tall skinny ex CIA operative lunatic on dialysis while he was plotting to send citizens of an ally of the US using funds obtained from that same ally to launch a terrorist attack on the US for the purpose of creating enough turmoil the US would respond as Russia did in the same area and destroy itself economically by spending too much money on war and the things of war.

Meanwhile,….. is it getting hotter or is it just me?……

Categories: April 2010 through June 2010 | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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