Archive for May, 2016

Green Thumb Up My Nose

May 22, 2016

Garden Report for 160523

So, now that it’s almost June, we have the weather data for April, and it confirms what gardeners already knew — it was warm. In fact it was the warmest on record. And if you look closely at the map, you see it was particularly warm in the NENW. And, even though this Summer will see normal rainfall, we’re still expected to be warmer than normal.

Meanwhile, this week was cool – er. Still ahead of seasonal averages, but cool. Also breezy. And showery. In fact, a lot like last week. I closed up the whitehouses on Thursday, since our highs were not predicted to get out of the mid-60’s through the weekend, with lows in the 40s. Sunday didn’t beat 60F, with 23mph winds, gusting to 30. What you’d call a blustery day.

Here’s the hops. I took four 10ft runs of corner trim and tied a 14x14ft anti-bird net to them. By the end of June, they’ll be up to the roof and we’ll have shade on the south side of the house all Summer. Assuming it all holds together.

Stalled at the 4ft mark

Stalled at the 4ft mark

And assuming that it does hold together, come Fall I’ll just cut them down, fold the whole thing up and dispose of it. We could do something more permanent and let it grow from year to year, but hops “berries” (more like little pine cones) are poisonous to dogs, so we want to get them out of the way.

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The Anti-Snowden

May 22, 2016

UPDATE: And after you read this essay, read this report, on a now-former DoD Inspector Generals official who tried to support the whistleblower laws.

U.S. News and World Report has an interview with Geoffrey Stone, described as a

… member of the National Advisory Council of the American Civil Liberties Union [and] member of a special review group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies.

Stone exonerates the NSA of running amok, by pointing out that

Every one of the programs the NSA was running in foreign intelligence surveillance was approved by the House and Senate intelligence committees, White House, the attorney general and the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Court. Every program was authorized and approved…. If there were extensive criticisms of the programs, the fault rests with the government entities that approved and authorized them.

I have always said that the problem doesn’t lie with NSA. The problem I have with this is that none of the groups Stone mentioned provided appropriate oversight. The Congressional intelligence committees are a bunch of know-nothings who are too busy trying to get re-elected to actually read any of the authorization documents. You can tell by looking at all the gasping and running around that was done after the disclosures. Maybe the committee chairs were witting, but the rest were complaisant and happy to remain in the dark. As for other possible sources of oversight, recent Attorneys General seem to think of themselves as aiders and abettors of whatever the President wants to do, and the FISA court is generally considered to be a rubber stamp and a joke.

Then, Stone puts his finger on the crux of the matter.

The risk is always there that some head of the NSA, or a J. Edgar Hoover or Nixon or LBJ would access those records for illegitimate reasons.

Exactly. We have secret laws, interpreted in secret ways, and approved in star chamber hearings. To that list of possible threats, we could add some future Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, or Donald Trump. This is how you start a democracy on the road to collapse — you institute bad policies for reasons of expediency, and you prevent those policies from being scrutinized by persons more concerned with good government than operational efficiency. Two or three Presidents later, you find those rules being used to attack political opponents.

About Snowden, Stone thinks he exposed too much.

I think if he had only disclosed the existence of the second 215 metadata program, then one might be able to make the case he did more good than harm because there were reforms adopted because of his disclosures

As for the rest of it

My involvement ended before all the consequences could be evaluated. I have no doubt folks in the government are quite confident of that (the subsequent damage). It’s quite logical.

So, he doesn’t know, but he thinks it hurt our collection activities. Except that when he gives examples, he admits that smart terrorists already assumed that NSA was listening, and so it would only be the dumb terrorists that would be caught. You know, like the ones who the FBI regularly entraps just in time for the next round of budget hearings.

Stone’s final take on Snowden:

I don’t doubt that Snowden was courageous and did what he did for what he thought were good reasons. But I think he was unduly arrogant, didn’t understand the limitations of his own knowledge and basically decided to usurp the authority of a democracy.

My personal opinion is that if it hadn’t been for the continuing drumbeat of revelations, from inside the US and overseas, the metadata revelations would have turned out to be another inside the Beltway, one-week-wonder, pushed off the front page by the latest round of political shenanigans, and that nothing would have been done.

Did Snowden’s revelations hurt the U.S. in its fight against terrorism? If there had been major damage, the agencies involved would have been trumpeting the news all over town. There’s been nothing. At least, nothing factual. There’s the periodic “it must have” and “it’s logical to assume”, but nothing that I have seen that is both substantial and concrete. And for what small impacts there have been, think of it as collateral damage, like you get from a drone strike.

As for usurping the authority of a democracy, sorry Mr. Stone, democracy had already been usurped by the very agents you describe in your first quote, above. And the defense that Snowden proposes isn’t the defense that you accuse him of inventing. It’s not “You can violate law if you have good enough reason to do it.”, it is “several agencies of the US government were committing acts that are both criminal and unconstitutional, and the purported methods of reporting them were closed to me.” And as an aside, the same laws that prohibit Snowden’s proposed defense include prohibiting that defense for revealing the 215 metadata program, so your argument is inconsistent.

So, my takeaway on all this? Yes, NSA, as usual, was acting within the constraints of law, as specified and approved by a whole range of government agencies. In doing so, they were the victims of an ongoing scam in much the same way that CIA interrogators were misled by John Yu’s DoJ opinions on torture. Edward Snowden, believing in both the Constitution and the new American motto for living “If you see something, say something”, essentially sacrificed his life to reveal the crimes. Could he have done it in a way that put fewer US programs at risk? Possibly. Could he have done it in a way that was just as effective but less sensational? Probably not.

UPDATE: And if you don’t believe me, here’s the story of a now-former DoD Inspector General official who tried to support the whistleblower laws.

Pollenaise

May 20, 2016

It is amazingly hard to get a reliable pollen forecast around here. And by reliable, I mean, one that isn’t contradicted by a different website.

The other problem is inconsistency of reporting. Today, May 20th, the Weather Channel website weather.com says the tree pollen forecast for the next three days (Saturday/Sunday/Monday) for Cheney, WA, is high/high/high. Twelve hours ago it said low/medium/high.

If you ask for Spokane, WA (99223) you get vhigh/vhigh/vhigh, but if you just ask for Spokane, WA, you get moderate/high/high.

All is grey

All is grey

Their source for current reporting actual levels for this region is Twin Falls, ID. They’ve been forecasting high threats for most of this month (and right now show high/ vhigh/ vhigh. However, reporting from Twin Falls for the first two weeks of May shows a pollen count of 125 for the first week, and 438 for the second week, both in the upper moderate range.

Meanwhile, the pollen.com website shows we’re currently medium-high, with a forecast of low-medium/ medium/ medium-high. And AccuWeather.com says we’re currently low, with a forecast of low/low/low.

On the left is the Weather.com map, as of today. Twin Falls is in the center (E/W) and a short ways north of the southern border, smack in the center of the low-moderate range. Spokane itself is in a grey area that is either no threat, or no data.

All is green

All is green

Which is fine, except that the AccuWeather map, on the right, shows us in a low pollen area.

So, do I take my Claratin, or not?

 

TacOats

May 19, 2016

We were looking for a quick meal the other night and found a package of chicken taco mix in the meat drawer. It’s a pre-packaged package of chunked chicken meat, seasoned with taco seasonings. We didn’t feel like tacos, so MJ made a kindofa chile: can of beans, can of chopped tomatoes, package of chicken taco filling. There was lots, so there was lots of leftovers.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth, two fat dinner teaspoons of chicken taco chile mix, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end, plus a grab-handful of shredded cheese.

Results: Pretty good, despite the fact that oatmeal and tomatoes don’t play well together. Not sure why. It’s not just the cooked tomato taste (which I’m not a fan of) because oatmeal and ketchup don’t work either. In any event, the chicken and the spices and the cheese overpowered the tomatoes to make an agreeable meal.

Rating: *****

Green Thumb Up My Nose

May 15, 2016

Garden Report for 160516

Weather this week started out chilly, moved to warm, and is now back to cool, and breezy. And showery. Forecast is for more cool and showery. But even this cooling trend is still two weeks ahead of our average.

In general, how far ahead are we this Spring? My May 15 gardening calendar says that the upcoming week is a good week to start cucumber and pumpkin seedlings, and lay down plastic mulch for the tomatoes, squash, and peppers. It also suggests that next Friday might be a good day for early planting. The reality is, of course, that my early planting was done two weeks ago.

As far as the garden itself, right now there’s nothing much going on. Planted some onions in Section 1, under the assumption that the cabbages would bolt. Scattered the last of last year’s amaranth seeds in front of the hops, and they are starting to show themselves. The hops* themselves put in a four-foot spurt of growth, but now are just marking time. I installed a timer-controller on the garden hose, so the soakers run for an hour every other day. Otherwise, things are just kindof, you know, growing.

*Last week I promised a photo of the hops, but because of the cool weather they are still marking time, and because of the rain, I’m not planning on any outdoor activities.

 

Anime worth watching, Winter, 2016

May 14, 2016

Running a little late on this one. What shows did I think were the best of the season just ended, half a season ago? In my postview I listed, briefly, how my predictions went. But which of those were really worthwhile?

First of all, a disclaimer. Erased and GenRaku (on Crunchyroll) and Grimgar (on Funimation) were all critically acclaimed. I liked the first episodes. I just was never in the mood to follow-up, so I can’t include them here. Maybe this summer. Herewith, the four:

Gate, Season 2: Fun premise, mediocre ending.
I called Season 1 An Akihabara Otaku in Emperor Augustus’ Court, after the Mark Twain novel. Season 1 was last Summer, so it’s a split-cour program.

Magical gate opens up in downtown Tokyo, leading to a land of dragons and elves and a Roman-style (down to the armor) empire. JSDF establishes bridgehead there, and proceeds to wipe the floor with the natives, while an otaku recon force leader establishes good relations with the elves and wizards and loli-goddesses. Season 2 focuses on internal politics of the empire — peace factions, war factions, scheming crown princes, upright crown princesses, Rasputainical rabbit-girls, and so forth. Some continuing coverage of otaku-san and his harem, but those episodes feel a lot like filler.

JSDF drops in

Next out, the headmaster’s Ferrari!

The original web-pub and manga were panned as overly militaristic and nationalistic. I don’t think the anime was, because it was in a long tradition of what if modern x went back to the past stories. Not just Twain, but de Camp’s Lest Darkness Fall, The H. Beam Piper / John Carr Kalvan series, Eric Flint’s 1632 series, Frankowski’s Cross-Time Engineer, and the film Final Countdown, to name a few.

Fighting withdrawal

Fighting withdrawal

Only at the end, with bombastic music and heroic vignettes does it live up to its jingoistic billing. Combined with the rushed, Shakespearian (well, Elizabethan)-style tying up of all the plot threads, where everybody gets married to everybody else and our otaku returns to Akihabara, the ending is where the anime falls severely down.

A lot of that going around this season

A lot of that going around this season

There’s more to the source manga, and the ending leaves room for a third season, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.

KonoSuba: God’s Blessing on This Wonderful World!
The ‘trapped in a fantasy world’ trope is now mature enough that programs can enjoy playing off established plotlines, knowing that viewers will get the joke. in KonoSuba, the hero dies in this world and is offered the opportunity to be born in a fantasy world, with one artifact from this one. The artifact he chooses is the very goddess who is offering him the choice.

The goddess can't hold her liquor

The goddess can’t hold her liquor

The world has the typical RPG accoutrements — guild hall, quests, adventurers, and so forth. Our Hero assembles a team of incompetents and mental cases to fight their battles with hordes of flying cabbages and herds of giant frogs.

And the rest of the team is incompetant

And the rest of the team is incompetent

Fortunately, the minions of the Demon King are just as incompetent as Our Gang. It’s only a ten-episode cour, and the ending is a set-up for a possible second season, so that could happen.

But so is the opposition.

But so is the opposition.

Myriad Colors Phantom World
This is Kyoto Animation having fun. No great depth. Monster of the week. Bit of drama at the end. Gorgeous artwork.

Reality is what you make of it

Reality is what you make of it

Unreality starts to bleed over into the real world. Specially talented highschool students are recruited to fight the phantoms. First episode sets the scene by requiring the busty lead girl to out-limbo a bunch of dancing telephone poles. Male lead can summon up demonic monsters for assistance, and we find that Cthulu looks like a cute beach toy, and Marchosias, the hell-hound, is a puppy with angel wings.

The Elder Gods Awake!

The Elder Gods Awake!

Each of the haremettes gets an episode of her own, including the Tinkerbell-sized Ruru. Or maybe it’s Lulu.

Aokana: Four Rhythm Across the Blue: No, I don’t know what the name means, either.
A typical “going to Koshien” highschool sports story, only in this case, the ‘sport’ is two-person flying competitions, using special antigrav shoes. There’s the usual sub-plots of the former champion who can’t bring himself to fly again, and the team that has a new, but unsportsmanlike, tactic. The first sub-plot never gets resolved (leaving space for a second season) while the resolution of the second, and the winning of the regional championship, form the exciting finale.

Mano a Mano

Mano a Mano

First of all, I really like flying anime — Porco Rosso, Strike Witches, Last Exile, Princess and the Pilot … OK, not Pilot’s Love Song. AoKana is a well done flying anime, that doesn’t use aircraft. Instead, they wear flying shoes, like the god Mercury, only without the snakes. Game tactics are some combo of block your opponent, tap the turn pylon, or slap your opponent’s back. The sport is a series of 1v1 encounters, so flying skill is more important than teamwork (although there is a ground controller, who says useful things like go faster!).

Dogfight!

Dogfight!

And Second, they really make you feel like you understand what’s going on. You can’t, because the action is twisted to fit the plot, but you think you know.

What other anime would define the technical aspects of the Low Yo-Yo maneuver?

What other anime would talk about the technical aspects of the Low Yo-Yo maneuver?

 

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Spring 2016

May 12, 2016

Big Order
It has an inane premise: that people offered a single superpower would each wish for a different plot – enhancing capability. It has an inane cast, ranging from a Super Mario’s Uncle lookalike to a talking 2×4 to a guilty-yet-innocent high-school protagonist who has the guile of a Dan Brown hero. And it has an inane-but-endearingly goofy plot, which involves one (indestructible) girl constantly dying in spectacularly stupid ways, while another tells our protagonist that her father told her if she allowed a boy to touch her she would become pregnant. Unfortunately, he grabs her rabbit ear hair ribbon to keep her from falling and she not only blows up like someone smuggling beachballs, she immediately starts having labor pains. After that, the quality goes downhill into typical shonen shouting and battles and angst.

It was a real short nine months

It was a real short nine months

Bakuon
The Girls und Motorbikes concept worked for a while, but it turns out that, even with the freedom of the open road, and a highway stretching all the way to Hokkaido, there’s only so many things you can do on a bike. Unlike Big Order, where I just couldn’t stand any more, this one got to the point where I just didn’t care. It was like watching CHiPs reruns without the chase scenes.

The call of the open road

The call of the open road

Japan in Transition

May 10, 2016

I have always been intrigued by situations where an artist is working to portray one image or idea, but also captures another. The classic example is Cennini’s description of 14th Century housekeeping when he thought he was talking about painting.

Less than three generations after Commodore Perry, at the end of the Meiji Era, Japan was undergoing rapid industrialization and modernization.  In 1908, three years after the Russo-Japanese War, and two years after his famous photos of earthquake-destroyed San Francisco, Arnold Genthe visited Japan and caught some images of this transition to modern life.

These photos are from the Vintage Everyday website (you should really go there, the clickable pictures are much better), and there are more available at the Library of Congress Genthe Collection (the reproductions are not as good).

Most of Genthe’s photos were of people in traditional, everyday garb carrying out their activities on typical streets with typical traditional architecture. But if you look over their shoulders, or at the edges of the photos, you can see the modern creeping in.

Here’s an everyday street scene of a market stall, with what looks like a family collected around it. The man is wearing a yukata (I think, I’m not good on various forms of dress) and wearing geta footwear. Over his shoulder is a sign  [氷] the kanji symbol for ice. This traditional scene has some form of refrigeration.

Ice for sale (also brooms)

Ice for sale
(also brooms)

And of course, they have the refrigeration because they have electricity. You can see the power lines and the pole transformers here. (more…)

Savory Azuki Oatmeal

May 5, 2016

This is my second attempt at savory azuki. Last time, almost exactly three years ago, it was complicated — use beef broth to bring out the flavor, wash beans to remove the sweet. This time it’s more ad hoc. I had a marrow-bone and veg broth that was mostly veg, with maybe too much garlic. I didn’t bother washing the beans, just drained the excess liquid off the spoon.

Setup: 1/3 cup of stone ground rolled oats, one cup of broth, three dinner teaspoons of beans, two dinner teaspoons of potato flakes, salt. Cook for 10 minutes or so, depending on the exact style of oats. Add the potatoes at the end.

Results: Very good. The residual sweet worked well with the garlic, and the beans worked well with the oatmeal bland. A good way to use up the rest of the bottle of beans.

Rating: *****

Green Thumb Up My Nose

May 3, 2016

Garden Report for 1600502

And here it is, May already. Steady warming trend, from a high of around 60 on Sunday, to a high of around 70…on Sunday.  Lows hit 33F on Sunday night, but the plants seem to have weathered it, even the ones not in the whitehouses. Forecast is for even more warming, into the 80’s, which I suspect will finally bolt my cabbages, and it’s not even June yet. Cliff Mass, the NWWx guy, says we should consider 1 May to be 1 June for gardening purposes this year. Temperature a foot down in the garden is already 60F.

Planted some more squash in Section 3 over the weekend — spaghetti, butternut, summer squash. Put some asparagus roots in to Section 4.

The hops are doing well. Tried a new way of providing them with growth support. Pix next week.

Planted two new tomatoes in deck containers — Christmas Grapes (I hope that’s not a indicator of when it ripens) and Stupice. That one was in a planting bag. I’m thinking it might be better than the decaying plastic containers I’m currently using.

Hillbilly Hydroponics

Hillbilly Hydroponics

And of course, no sooner had I written about the joys of hydroponics last week than my lettuce started to wilt. I think all the moving around to take the pictures may have broken the threadlike root or something. So I drilled a hole in the shoulder of the bottle, big enough for a small funnel, and added a few cups of water, just enough to bring it an inch or so up the side of the sock. Back to firm and crisp-looking. So it’s not a fire and forget, it’s more like plant it and set your calendar.