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February 2012
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Mali Journal

M, my older daughter, is with the Peace Corps in Mali. She wrote an extra long journal entry this month. It starts like this:

I did a bunch over these last couple of weeks.

The combination of the end of the harvest season and the not quite beginning of hot season means that people have some free time and some money and are interested in doing projects. Of course, I came during this window last year, but I didn't get permanently to village until April, and then hot season was revving up.

You can read the whole thing here.

RIP, Peter Bergman

I said most of what I have to say about the Firesign Theater last month, when I officially joined Peter Bergman's site to become an Ozinear. Alas, my time on the team was limited by his untimely death last week from complications related to leukemia. He worked right up until two days before his departure. It took the LA Times a shameful amount of time to post an obituary. He recited a poem on his last day, which is on his website. The Beatles of Comedy (as the Firesign Theater was justly known) will now, like the Beatles themselves, or Monty Python, be limited to partial reunions, because of one of their members has joined... well, I did the Python Dead Parrot routine last week. Peter was 72, which is entirely too young. In a sign of our bizarre times, I learned of his death from Wikipedia. The Wednesday and Thursday Radio Free Oz podcasts were repeats of his material from the 90s. I wanted to suggest he issue a CD, or a download, which might make him a few bucks from the likes of  Jack Hatchett, Dick in Dogtown, or Hal Stark, Prisoner of the 20th Century. There is no "contact us" link on his web page, so I was scouring the Internet. I dislike and distrust Wikipedia, so when I hit that page, still looking for an email ID I never found, I was aghast that the entry gave March 9 as his date of death. I assumed at first it was, like the many other hacks I have seen on Wikipedia. For hours, there was nothing anywhere else on the Internet. Finally, KPCC, where he did a radio series, put up an obit in late morning, followed at 1:01pm by  KPFK (the public station where Firesign was formed). The Los Angeles Times slapped up a brief at 1:26, then took a few hours to file a complete story. The New York Times managed an obit at 9 pm, which was, at least, partially original. KNX, the successor to KFWB (where he worked for a year in 2009-10), managed a decent (for radio) item at 2:50pm. I don't know who changed his Wikipedia page by 9:58 am Pacific Time, but their IP address is Bremerton, Wash., which makes it likely one of his old mates, David Ossman or Phil Austin, who live near Seattle. Is this the world we live in, where news of your departure appears first, not on your own web page, or on a newspaper or radio news site (or for that matter, in a newspaper or on radio), but on Wikipedia? What a strange world it is.

Having completed this item, I recognize how bizarre and pedantic it is, but I offer two excuses. First, I really can't process my feelings the fact that there will never be any more material written jointly by the 4 or 5 Krazee Guys (the publishing company for their material). Secondly, the handling of obits these days is a travesty. Newsrooms are so downsized that the news has become a crapshoot, and any institutional memory was pushed out the door ages ago. So, no judgment. News as we know it is dead or dying.

Political Briefs

Assassinations of American Citizens
Re the allegation by the AG (without citation to any case by name, court, docket number, case reporter location, or date of decision) that “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution states (and has stated since  about 1791), in pertinent part, that: "No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . ."  That's "due process of law" not just "due process."  The NYT here did a stenography job by reporting the speech without reporting the text to which the AG allegedly referred and which he took an oath or affirmation to support before taking office.

Interesting Question
So, would the administration ask another government to use its agencies to terminate people in the US, like Occupiers and anti-war protesters, who are considered undesirable?

Peterman on maintaining standards and visualizing debt, Joe Edwards on backup, Twitter Chats for J Students, Carroll on Invisible Mercedes, Dan Grobstein File

After I wrote about the Ahwahnee dropping its requirement for a coat and tie on men at dinner, I got this from Kent Peterman:

An interesting saga. Society has indeed gone to hell. I rather hoped the Ahwahnee would be a hold out.
Ships used to be a bastion of proper dress but I just read on a blog that a CD and his assistant counted the number of tuxes on a formal night and counted 10 (out of 3,000 passengers).

Brooksie and I recently stayed at the Clift Hotel. I was thrown out of the Redwood Room there in the 70's not because of what  I was wearing (a suit and tie) but because my hair was a tad over my collar. It would not have been a problem on the last visit.

It's too bad that casualness has become so pervasive. I used to dress up to fly. Actually I still wear a blazer. When I first sailed on ships formal was a tux, informal was a suit, and casual was a sportcoat or blazer with slacks, tie, and shirt.

I personally blame the profusion of baseball caps and fanny packs but that's just my theory. The thing of it is that if no one dresses up for things that are special then they cease to be special.

I responded: "Wow Kent! I could not agree more. In 1985, we were thrown out of London's pricey  Connaught hotel at BREAKFAST because I was not wearing a coat and tie. I think the LA Country Club still maintains standards, but it may be among the last places on earth. That and television. When we turn on the TV and an anchor in the studio or a late-night talk show host is not wearing a coat and tie, that will be a sign of the apocalypse."

Kent also sent me an email showing a visualization of the national debt. I found it on a web site, although just from the name of it, I am sure I don't agree with ANY commentary or analysis on this site. Still, the simple facts are staggering, regardless of  your take on it.

My tale of computer woe brought commiseration from Joe Edwards, along with the fact that he uses "a service called Mozy that automatically sweeps my entire system every few hours and stores it centrally."

Cbuck Carroll was tickled by the invisible Mercedes. Now you can be too.

Dan Grobstein File

Just one item in the file this week:

  • Jesse Lee (@jesseclee44) 105 million Americans (1/3 of total population) no longer face lifetime limits on their insurance.

What a Week!

Early Tuesday morning, I turned on my computer and was greeted by the only thing scarier than the blue screen of death, the black screen of death, which, on my computer, involves "Press F11 to begin recovery process." I tried everything, but my machine lay on the bottom of its cage with its little feet in the air.  This computer is no more! It  has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet it's  maker!
It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace!  It's kicked the bucket, shuffled off this mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible!! (as John Cleese once put it in a similar context). It was agony to wait a few hours until 10am when Neighborhood Computer opened. I ran the processor into the shop. After school, I stopped by and was told the system was toast, but if I got an external hard drive, we could probably save some of the data. By the time I got back, they had tried "one more thing" and recovered it, but I was warned its days were numbered, and the number was a small integer. For the first time in a decade, I was going to have to migrate a Windows system to new hardware, and, from XP to Windows 7. I was afraid it would break everything, but that wasn't quite true. It did break a game I love to play while waiting on the phone for insurance companies to admit they own my wife money for her work as a therapist. And, of course, I had to drop hundreds of bucks on software upgrades or replacements for stuff that no longer worked properly under Windows 7, which I hate with every fiber of my being. I don't like anything about its interface, although I discovered if you spend several hours you can make it almost look like XP on a bad day.

And you Mac people, don't bother to write in and tell me how trivial the migration is with a Mac. I am a pool of Windows in a sea of Macs owned by my wife and both my daughters. For business reasons (some insurance web sites will only respond to Internet Explorer, which no longer exists on Macs), I am a slave of Microsoft. But while a Mac transfer to a a new machine is trivial  IF YOU STAY WITH THE SAME MAC OPERATING SYSTEM, our recent upgrade to Lion (in order to make iPhoto work for our Christmas Card), broke more than $1,000 worth of software and obsoleted another $1,000. Some of the replacement software is terrible compared to the version it replaced. And one piece of software said, "before you migrate, be sure to export your database, because both  the application and the old database aren't compatible with Lion." Only problem was, I was reading this page AFTER the upgrade. As I say, I am surrounded by Macs, so I found one with an older OS, loaded up the old software and the old database, and converted to the new, much more difficult to use, version of the software. Transfer is a bitch, no matter what your platform (well, maybe not for Linux; I wouldn't know).

I took Friday off from work, and put in about 40 hours, but I am writing this on the new 4GB, 64-bit machine with Windows 7--albeit with 90% of my software being 32-bit. At least, unlike Lion, Windows 7 didn't break ALL my apps. That's why the rest of the column is shorter than usual.

Political Briefs

A Separation

4 stars out of 5
Well, A Separation got an Oscar bounce in our house; after ignoring it since it came out, we went to the nearby Orinda Theater, where it was consistently selling out the 75-seat theater they reserve for the artsy stuff. It is a powerful and moving film, brilliantly written, directed and acted. It is clearly art, because it is ambiguous and deals with big issues.  It isn't perfect (I don't mind subtitles, maybe you do); it looks pretty inexpensive. The issues surrounding divorce, emigration and Alzheimer s could easily have been three separate movies, but they are woven together here in a thought-provoking if not exactly entertaining way. It certainly won't make you want to move to Iran, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman (but more so if you are a woman).