Friday, 17 August 2018

there in a cockatrice?

Another nearby pub that I hadn't previously visited. One of those deceptive ones, with a small entrance through an archway and then a long building on both sides of a narrow paved area.

The bar area somehow reminded me of a galleon. Narrow corridors with wooden sides. Angles and hidden areas. Not surprising as the original structure dates from around 1420.

A one-time deadly well once took part of the site and around in 1649 there were rumours that a cockatrice lived at the bottom.

By 1832 the area was beset with cholera, and a few years later the pub was in cash-for-votes corrupt elections.

I had to find our group, who said they were in a back room. I hunted around and despite getting to know the layout of both sides of the paving, I eventually had to admit defeat.

A quick phone call later and I discovered that the back room was actually outdoors in a twinkly corner of the garden.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

field notes around #topsham

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The combine harvester paid another visit to the field opposite. A seriously high-tech device - the CLAAS Lexion 770.

It has tracks at the front which somehow provide stability from a narrow platform, considering the width of the spinning orange vario header which is used to cut the hay. It's also got some fancy telematics so that the exact paths it takes around the field can be tracked back at base.

When they sowed the field we saw all the rabbits running to the edge. This time (for the second cut) I guess the rabbits read the memo.
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I'll have to see how my hay fever handles the next couple of days, although so far so good.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

targeting, but not a market


Now that the so-called president is using his powers to settle personal scores, we can expect to see ever more people on his hit list.

After John Brennan's security clearance revocation which bypassed the chain of command completely, there's a long list of others to follow. The targets are Trump critics as he removes the separation between political and national security powers.

Peter Strzok and James Comey are obvious hits, although they could easily be bundled within a larger list. Trump's game isn't just to shut these people down, he also wants to stop any investigations which could damage him.

Manafort's trial could lead a challenge, although omissions from witnesses though sweetheart 'get out of jail' deals may create a chink in the prosecution case. The Fifth Amendment means that witnesses can trade silence for non self-incrimination.

But Trump won't be put off from his path to destroy anyone who he doesn't get along with.

"Fired FBI Agent Peter Strzok is a fraud, as is the rigged investigation he started," the president lambasts. "There was no Collusion or Obstruction with Russia, and everybody, including the Democrats, know it. The only Collusion and Obstruction was by Crooked Hillary, the Democrats and the DNC!"

It's not a subtle approach. A broken record with embedded hate chants suitable for use at his rallies.

Bruce Ohr might be the next to get fired. An easy target with Fusion ink on his (and his wife's) hands.

But all of this is lining up towards another target. It has to be stopping Mueller, perhaps via Jeff Sessions. Or to find another way to bypass the hierarchy. On Tuesday Trump again blamed Sessions, labelling him as not a 'real' attorney general. That's after Saturday, when the president accused Sessions of being 'scared stiff' and 'missing in action.' He's trying to get his own puppet in place instead.

And perhaps he is saving his more dogged insults for later, whilst routinely dishing them to others.

Meanwhile, the so-called president's administration continues to create its own truth. Last week Ms Sanders wrongly told a media briefing that Mr Obama created 195,000 jobs for black workers which was much less than the 700,000 in Mr Trump’s first 18 months. Grossly inaccurate.

About three million more African-Americans were in work by the end of the Obama's second term, according to the US Bureau of Labour Statistics. Equivalent recent stats for Trump's regime show a rise in black unemployment from 6.7% to 7.7%.

None of it matters to many of the voters. They'll pick a baseball cap and ignore the rest. Or just rely upon others to make the decisions.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Chèvres en équilibre (retour)


Sometimes, after a complicated blog post, it's good to have a simple one.

Aficionados will know that the full version is on YouTube.

Monday, 13 August 2018

one too many diagrams and a thousand lies behind?


A curious facet of the upcoming US elections is that quite a few voters need to re-register before they can take part. Simple enough if you're a householder with a passport or similar i.d.

Less so for a student, whose student i.d. would be insufficient and might need to find something like a gun-owner licence to be able to register. Last time the mid-term turn-out was around 37%. Perhaps this time a Russian presence in some key areas might tip the numbers upwards a little?

I've been working out the Russian leverage. It has to be money. Sleaze won't cut it for the so-called President. Power might, but Putin doesn't play that game.

It'll be about the US sanctions against Russia and the leverage will be the loans and business model offered to Trump's companies. The 2016 Trump Tower 'adoption' talks were really about sanctions removal, as well as possible dirt-dishing.

Drawing a diagram doesn't really work. It's too complicated. That's the accidental brilliance of cutting everything into 140 character bursts.

Instead, let's look at a few events.

In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. told a real estate conference: “In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia. There’s indeed a lot of money coming for new-builds and resale reflecting a trend in the Russian economy and, of course, the weak dollar versus the ruble.”

Where that money comes from exactly could be a moot point. How it gets cleansed as part of the process could be another interesting discussion.

A quick example of funding comes from a Putin controlled bank which helped out Toronto Tower. The Russian-Canadian developer of the project sold a Ukrainian steel mill and received $850 million. A Ukrainian industrial group bought the mill through five offshore companies, funded with money from Russia’s state-owned Putin-chaired bank (VEB). The developer thereafter put $15 million into Trump Toronto.

Then there's the May 2017 story of a reporter Dodson asking Donald Trump, "'What are you using to pay for these (golf) courses?' And he just sort of tossed off that he had access to $100 million... So when I got in the cart with Eric, as we were setting off, I said, 'Eric, who's funding? I know no banks — because of the recession, ... have touched a golf course?~' Eric said, 'Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.' I said, 'Really?' And he said, 'Oh, yeah. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they're really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.' Now that was three years ago, so it was pretty interesting."

But oh, then Eric denies it all two days later.

However, Trump in Moscow: “The Russian market is attracted to me,” he tells Real Estate Weekly, describing his Moscow meetings. “I have a great relationship with many Russians, and almost all of the oligarchs were in the room.”

As for the organisation of it all. A quick example is the link to the Bayrock Group. Founded in 2001 by Tevfik Arif, a former Soviet official from Kazakhstan. Arif hired Russian businessman Felix Sater as MD then COO of Bayrock. As COO, Sater assisted with several projects, including the Trump SoHo project. But Sater left Bayrock in 2008 after a New York Times article revealed that in 1998, Sater had pled guilty to stock racketeering and fraud as part of a US and Russian mafia-connected $40 million stock pump and dump scheme.

Answering deposition questions in a case involving a Fort Lauderdale project, Trump says he had only "limited involvement" with Bayrock Group, which was a Trump tenant. Trump testifies that he spoke with Felix Sater “for a period of time” when he was an executive with Bayrock.

Now here's the thing. Allegedly, after leaving Bayrock, Felix Sater becomes "senior adviser to Donald Trump," according to his Trump Organization business card. He also had a Trump Organization email address and office. The phone number listed on the card had belonged previously to a lawyer in Trump’s general counsel’s office.

But then after a BBC reporter questions Trump about Felix Sater’s alleged prior connections to organized crime, Trump ended the interview.

Fast forward to this year. The White House were forced to correct the Putin/Trump Helsinki meeting transcript. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow reported that the White House had deliberately omitted key language from the official transcript of Vladimir Putin’s answer to a question from Reuters reporter Jeff Mason. Eventually the White House revises the transcript to include the missing question and answer:

“Q: President Putin, did you want President Trump to win the election? And did you direct any of your officials to help him do that?

“PRESIDENT PUTIN: (As interpreted.) Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Because he talked about bringing the US-Russia relationship back to normal.”

Vladimir Putin also told Russian diplomats that he proposed a “Peace Plan” to Trump in Helsinki. According to Bloomberg, Putin’s proposal calls “for a vote conducted under international auspices by the residents of the separatist territories on their status,” including eastern Ukraine. Some eighteen months earlier – in January 2017 – Michael Cohen had met with Felix Sater and Andrey Artemenko to provide a proposed ‘Peace Plan’ that Cohen said he would deliver to then national security adviser Michael Flynn. The Sater-Artemenko plan reportedly provided that Ukrainian voters would decide in a referendum whether Crimea would be leased to Russia for a term of 50 or 100 years and, eventually, to lift US sanctions against Russia.

Okay, a slightly simpler diagram:

Still, a lot of information. Let's net it down.
  • Trump's organisation brags that it gets lots of money from Russia.
  • It's hard to tell where it all came from or how clean it is.
  • Much seems to flow from the demise of the Soviet Union, when the Russian 'wild east' opened shop.
  • There's an intertwining of tarnished advisors in the mix too. Felix Sater and Paul Manafort have some challenged back-stories.
  • An as yet unexercised 'Peace Plan' is hatched to give new Russia and Putin tactical gains as well as better access to the global economy.
  • As for the leverage: "Do our bidding or we'll call in all the loaned money and fire off some of the kompromat."
Time will tell.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

one less visit to the shops


Sometimes it all goes wrong. I bought some jeans, got them home and discovered they still had a security tag on them.

A grey tag on grey jeans. You'd think they'd make the tags bright yellow or orange? I could have gone back to the store, but I wondered if there was a simpler solution.

The innards of the non-ink tags are basically magnetic ball bearings which lock against a sprung collar. I thought I'd just need a big magnet to un-ping it.

So I looked behind my guitar amp and there was a big Celestion speaker with some kind of neodymium magnet thingy. I tried a few brisk taps (I don't recommend this etc.), and astonishingly the tag was freed.

The other way, so I'm told, is to use a hammer directly onto the bit that holds the ball bearings. Also not recommended, although I have a strong feeling it would work.

Friday, 10 August 2018

design faults and a book


It all went a bit pear-shaped when I was checking out the language class options for next time around. I was drawn into another topic area entirely, related to my artists' writing sessions which ended early in 2018.

For the rest of 2018, I've decided to join a creative writing session at another nearby pub. My design fault was to attempt to add some sort of book reviewing meetup. It all went wrong, of course. The planned book review sessions were at the same time as the creative writing.

No worries, I thought, I'll find a different reviewer session.

That I did.

I found the replacement group on Wednesday, enrolled and then discovered that its next session was Thursday, the very next day. They were to review a book by Will Self. I could have skipped the session, but that's not the way to do it.

I'll happily listen to Will Self prognosticating, often from Radio 4 or in a Guardian-style lecture. I've read one of his shorter writings, 'The design faults of the Volvo 760', which is about motor car and lifestyle faults. I'd originally read it as part of one of those Penguin binge-boxes, where it was amongst 70 individually bound short stories.

I downloaded the selected book to review from Kindle.

The Book of Dave.

Not 30 pages, this one, oh no, 500 pages plus a glossary. Kindle estimated 9h30 to read it. I knew I wouldn't do it justice in my available time before the next evening's session at the pub.

That was even before I started it.

Self had decided to invent a new post apocalyptic language to write in for about half of the book. The first chapter starts as a cross between an extended mockney and text-speak. The story is partly about religion, filtered through the mind of a raging and mad misogynistic London taxi-driver. After being dumped by his wife, he writes a rant, has it printed on metal pages which he then buries it in a garden.

This rant, Dave's rules, are discovered after a great dystopian flood and with the mixed terminology of cockney, taxi driving, The Knowledge and SMS-texting become the basis of a new governance and religion.

The storyline is split into various threads, with the future set some 527 years After Dave, during which a small remaining island of what was once Hampstead (Ham) goes about its Moto (part-sentient animal) farming business, somewhat to the sarf uv Nú Lundun. Many scenes are framed through Dave's mind which boils with an intense anger, whether through his presence, or through the effect of his inadvertent messages to the future.

I could go on with the story, which I assembled by reading 2-3 pages every 20 or so, such that I'd have a general idea of the book, its style and general messaging, ahead of our get together.

As luck would have it, I was not alone in finding this book difficult to read. There were around a dozen of us around the raucous table in the pub. Two had finished the book legitimately. A couple more had managed around a third. I felt like I'd managed to be up there with the 'most read' despite my (disclosed) unconventional approach.

Will Self may have created a Dävinanity and plenty of clever word play, but the voice of his character is so unremittingly shouty and bleak (a rude man, that Dave Rudman), that it is hard to see how the religion would form around it.

But I suppose that is one of Self's points.

He opens the book with a quote from Edward Thomas: I like to think how easily Nature will absorb London as she absorbed the mastodon, setting her spiders to spin the winding sheet and her worms to fill in the graves, and her grass to cover it pitifully up, adding flowers – as an unknown hand added them to the grave of Nero.

Then much later he applies the other bookend with a rail about religion: After all, the Church had murdered itself, as with every decade more and more depressed dubiousness crept into its synods and convocations, until, speaking in tongues, it beat its own skull in at the back of the vestry. Divorcees and devil-worshippers, schismatics, sodomites and self-murderers – they were all the same for the impotent figures who stood in the pulpit and peered down at pitiful congregations, their numbers winnowed out by satellite television and interest-free credit.

There's no doubt that Self can write, nor that he can think; he writes about London well and with humour. There's the little section about the huge hotels on the A4 - so large they could check in the other smaller hotels, or the section about Edgeware Road and the plate glass windows of Maroush... Arabs supping fruit juices and smoking shishas. I can't help thinking that as a single novel this may need to be read in small instalments and not as I attempted.

Someone asked me: Will I go back and fill in the 20 page gaps? Probably not, it's work on me is done.

And meanwhile, our noisy but otherworld vocabulary weary group of a dozen and a floppy dog veered away from Will Self and onto other matters.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

gespräch


Last academic year's language classes finished and I wondered how to prevent my new experiences fading away ahead of next term. To avoid a castle in the air, I'd already joined a conversation group, and even arranged a couple of meetings.

(see the lengths I'll use to get a picture of the lovely Burg Hohenzollern into the blogpost?)

The organiser arranged for me to be a co-organiser but then contacted me to say thanks for helping and to ask if I'd mind running the group. A classic pro-active dilemma. I've said yes, although it's a bit of a stretch of my language capabilities dealing with the inevitable emails which arrive and require me to reply in the language.

It's been an interesting test. I can bat away English emails in seconds, often with a short and informal reply. Another language requires more care. I might accidentally say something slightly unintended.

Separate from that group another one has organically formed. Some of the folk from the weekly language class decided to meet every couple of weeks at a local pub for some conversation.

I'm in with that too, so hopefully the added chatter will help. And on Sunday I'm co-ordinating my third meeting of the other group, this time at a wider Language Café session.

Next, maybe I'll need to plan a short trip.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

points create surprises


I'm in some of those frequent traveller programmes for hotel chains and airlines. My Stocard App holds all the details. They used to be called loyalty schemes, but I can understand why that term is being phased out. Things they don't always tell you are the ways the points melt away if not used.

I recently lost 20,000 points on one system because I hadn't stayed somewhere in their last allocated time period.

Then, when we recently travelled to Canada, the lovely hotel chain we were using changed its system whilst we were there. They cancelled their own club and we became a new number in another multi-brand system. It turned out I was already a member, although I was given a new number. Whether I will ever reclaim/relink the points together is an ongoing question.

And then to a 2019 flight I've recently booked. I logged onto the airline loyalty system and sought the best value flight. Let's say it was priced at 1850. Before I booked it, it was suggested that I see what exactly the same flight would cost to a non-member of the points scheme.

A different computer, the same airline quote site and curiously enough, it was 1724. Around 125 less.

Hmm.

So then I logged back into my points, from within that second quote. Still at 1724. Now to add some points to the fare to bring it down further. Another 500 less. 1224. A better result.

Maybe this is what is known as dynamic pricing and flexible ticketing?

These convoluted processes are not really adding to loyalty, however.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

not with a bark, but a dog-whistle


When a dog barks to get attention, it could be a lighthearted 'wuff' or altogether more noticeable full throated and sustained utterances.

Someone responsible for the dog has to determine whether the effect is endearing or sometimes requires discipline.

Just as important is the reason for the bark. An imminent danger maybe? or just making a noise? It doesn't matter how cute the dog looks, an owner still needs to be able to handle the situation.

So when an amoral politician uses dog technique to gain attention, there's a similar question.

A blatant use of viral populism to scrabble into the news needs a firm leader to say 'No'.

But this scruffy haired dog can't even be kept on a short leash. Its day has passed.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

occasion at Lympstone


A visit to chef Michael Caines excellent Lympstone Manor, a short way along the River Exe.

A tasteful and modern restoration to the interior of this Georgian manor house, now with 21 rooms and a singularly excellent restaurant. A simple menu with highly tempting and original options.

We sat outside whilst choosing, enjoying the sunshine view of boats on the River Exe. A couple of trains meandered (our side) and snaked (the Dawlish side) along the river.

Time to eat and we were escorted inside and presented with canapés demonstrating the chef's taste blending skills. Now I don't usually take pictures of food, but I'd think it impossible to take a bad picture of anything served in this Michelin starred restaurant. These initial morsels served to show the treat ahead, so here's my iPhone snap.

That fancy looking spoon is about teaspoon-sized, to get an idea of this taste-packed initial item.

Some lovely wine and after a suitable pause the first course arrived. I won't go through a blow-by-blow account, instead I'll show a picture of another wonderful course delightfully presented. Proper 'Occasion dining'.

After lunch we explored some of the grounds. There's a fledgling vineyard, in an area close to the already established Pebblebed vineyards, so in a couple more years we should be able to get interesting choices from the sunny slopes around this part of Devon.

Now, when's the next special occasion?

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

when a kingdom stands on brittle glass


As Trump tries to shut down the Mueller investigation, my thoughts flittered briefly to Shakespeare.

Depending on how it's measured, Richard III, is broadly considered to be one of his top three villains. Shakespeare's Richard scores around 11 on something called the Dr Stone scale. It's a continuum describing psycho killers, from 1-lowest to 22-highest. His score could have been higher, but he usually enacted his power-mad bloody deeds through the actions of others.

Richard had deaths from warfare on his hands, but also an excess of murder and executions. First as the Duke of Gloucester before deviously grasping the throne, his deceits and cold-blooded elimination of those in his way gave Shakespeare plenty of material. Richard repeatedly schemes to capture the crown, and in the play we hear his inner thoughts expressed, often cruelly, in monologues.

Richard is portrayed as a supremely confident manipulator. Rick the Trick rather than Don the Con. A first example is his seduction of Lady Anne after being the instrument of her husband’s death. For Richard it is the first of many vile acts, including ordering the murders of his brother George, Duke of Clarence and his two young nephews who stand between him and the crown.

As well as his hunched back and withered arm, Richard had an unbalanced demeanour. He could act as a weasel when useful and unpredictably forceful when necessary. Shakespeare wrote him to reveal his chilling innermost thoughts directly to the audience.

Set in the late 1400s and written in 1590, there's ne'er a tweet in sight, although the type of actions and motivations still ring true today. My movie still above shows Ian McKellen as Richard III, but reimagined in a 1930s fascist Britain.

That's why I've used the Stone scale in a slightly different way. The Stone numbers around 10-12 are all about someone removing people who are 'in the way'.

10 is removal of witnesses, 11 is removal of family members, 12 is striking out when cornered, 13 invokes uncontrollable rage.

See where this is heading? But if we are to believe the Stone scale, we are still only half way along the continuum.