Thursday, 28 February 2019

the smoking check isn't the main game, which is much bigger


Being in the USA, it was compelling to watch some of the House Oversight Committee questioning of Cohen yesterday, although there were several aspects that presented curiously to a Brit.

The most obvious point was that this wasn't the main game. Cohen has another set of hearings in Southern Circuit New York which will be where he reveals more about his role as a fixer and threatener for Trump. Cohen managed his delivery with a theatrical accuracy during the whole proceedings.

It gave the Representatives that interrogated him a chance to vent their displeasure, but Cohen was still able to rebuff most of what was thrown at him. He's already admitted to being a liar, cheating taxes and so on, so the mainly Republicans making accusations about this were at least partly wasting their time.

Clear that their reason for this is to try to show the general public that Cohen can't be trusted.

It's another part of a Trump gameplay. Like having a big whiteboard with placards displayed in the open hearing. Extreme showboating. Astonishing.

Trump used Cohen as a fixer for 10 years. They had offices on the same floor. Cohen knew Trumos coded way to issue orders. Nothing direct. The fixing included paying off women, but also a multitude of threats to many people who Trump didn't like, or didn't want to pay or for any other reasons.

A classic move would be to avoid the final payment on a construction deal. A nice round third of the contract value, perhaps?

A quick look at Trump's asset statement from 2013 is itself quite revealing, showing an additional $4 billion of Brand Value added to the statements. That's an amount that inflates apparent value for attraction of new loans.

Cohen will save the best stuff for the New York hearings, where he could also negotiate a Section 35 partial pardon from the three year sentence he currently faces.

Cohen is certainly a slippery operator, but on this situation seems to be taking the view to bury the president in a hail of allegations. Trump will call it Fake News, many Republican voters won't even care. Cohen may get a reduced sentence and then will sell book rights, movie rights and beyond.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Hakuna Mutata


This time I decided to try using the iPhone for some wildlife pictures. Completely unplanned, I thought there would be new challenges because of the need to somehow zoom without any optical glass assistance.

Above is a young giraffe, although my pictures of a rhinoceros were blurred and unfit to publish,

Still, here's a dozy lion and the profile of a lioness. Easier to take these, because the creatures were not moving about. Here's another one, although it does show that the iPhone's zoom is maybe not suited to this kind of task.

Well, I may not have achieved pictures of all of the big game specified, but I somehow didn't expect my little iPhone to shine at this particular task.

Still, no worries, as they say. It's our problem-free philosophy; Hakuna Matata.

Sunday, 24 February 2019

one small step


A fun trip to NASA today. It's years since I was last here, but I still have the tee shirt. This time it was interesting to see how much the private sector has added to the activities around the complex.

There was the inevitable SPACEX presence, which is the Elon Musk initiative and gets plenty of news about its progress.

Here's a picture I took from their main launch facility, which is the updated old launch pad used by the main NASA missions to the moon and for the space shuttle. The concrete blast trenches were big enough to contain the power from a Saturn 5 rocket, so this is seriously rugged construction.

Towards the main entrance to NASA, there's also a couple of blue buildings. Blue Origin. That's the Jeff Bezos project. Not quite Amazon, it is by the Amazon founder and is actively using the Cape Canaveral side of the launch site. That's the part still under USAF control, rather than NASA.

Not so much to see, but still plenty happening.

The big events of the past are well featured inside NASA's halls in this still live facility. Last time I visited here the space shuttle was still active and we saw one on its way to the launch facility.

Now my picture shows Atlantis is in a museum. It has clocked about 126 million miles on 33 separate missions spread over 26 years. Impressive stuff and it is the real deal.

That is just scratching the surface of this impressive site. We shouldn't forget the moon landing or the many other incredible advances through the technology of space missions. Here's my photo of the giant leap and, yes, I've added a polo shirt to my collection.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

ybor the cigar city


Time to visit Ybor City just northeast of downtown Tampa (itself once nick-named as Cigar-City).

Ybor was founded in the 1880s by Vicente Martinez-Ybor and other cigar manufacturers and was populated by thousands of immigrants, mainly from Cuba, Spain, and Italy.

There's still a mixed vibe of Cuban-Italian-Spanish and a few cigar stores still hand-rolling some of their products.

The city was unique in the American south as a successful town almost entirely populated and owned by immigrants.

The neighbourhood had features unusual among contemporary communities in the south, most notably its multi-ethnic and multi-racial population and their many mutual aid societies.

The post depression decline in cigar sales created a corresponding slide for Ybor until the 1980s, when an influx of artists began a slow process of gentrification.

We've visited before and the area around 7th Avenue has continued its development into a bohemian night club and entertainment district with many old buildings were renovated for new uses, although this time I noticed a few had indeed emptied again.

Things don't really kick off here until well into the evening, after the last bus has passed through the centre of the district.

Friday, 22 February 2019

a day at the beach


February. Not the most obvious month to hit the beach but thoroughly enjoyable and a chance to relax in the sunshine.

It's not too crowded either, looking out into the Gulf of Mexico. We've enough space to build new castles and to make plans for other parts of this journey.

The family WhatsApp group may get more of the overtly holiday snap pictures, and it is but a small indulgence to show the white-sanded beaches here in the hot sunshine. I know that something is missing though?

Yes, a palm tree.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

cross town - so hard to get through to you

We've been using an OnStar satellite navigation system for part of the time.

It doesn't seem to like a British accent.

As an example, I was asking it to go to one of the four or five biggest locations around here and it offered me a selection which didn't include the place at all, but did mention a yoghurt shop about 300 miles away.

It's hilarious if it gets behind the conversation too and will just keep saying the same thing over and over again.

The system doesn't actually provide any maps, just the turn instructions. I suppose it could be so that I'd opt to get the expensive additional satnav option added to the car rental. It would be less expensive to pop into Walmart or somewhere similar to just buy one.

I'd be furious if I'd bought a car with one of these things expecting hot to work.

In another example, the same voice satnav took me around three sides of a lengthy square to reach a destination.

I can't help wondering how the system's finance works. Did the yoghurt shop pay to get mentioned? Is google or someone paying g to get the tracking information?

I've mainly switched it off now, although the 7 inch screen in the middle of the dashboard looks somewhat untidy with a scrappy partial menu related to radio stations on it.

There's no overt design aesthetic. Someone should be ashamed.

I'm instead using my own knowledge and navigation, which seems dramatically better than this particular high-tech voice operated system. I'll get the blame if we get lost, so it might as well really be my fault rather than a piece of not so well-designed technology.

Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Luau interlude


Ever onward, this time to a Luau. It's years since I attended one and has been on the revisit list for quite some time.

Plenty of dancing and some Samoan flaming spears as well.

My pictures from this are somewhat impressionistic. It took me some time to figure out how to capture live performance with a DSLR and I think I'll have to relearn the approach with an iPhone, although currently I think it may be towards the limits of what is do-able.

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

alligator swamp without metaphors


There we were, heading along the river, past the alligator swamp just as the wind changed. We could see the rain approaching along the water, turning a flat surface into one boiling with raindrops.

Most sought shelter, but I pulled on a cagoule and stayed out in the weather, so different from the sun scorch an hour earlier. The rain shower didn't last more than a few minutes with a resultant pleasant cooling which lasted for the next couple of hours.

Monday, 18 February 2019

say cheese


News from Blighty seems bitter at the moment. It's as if both the main political duopoly are in a new turmoil and about to suffer defections related to the power politics of party first thinking.

I decided it might be more useful to study this cheese spread wrapper until things settle down. Notice the use of 'cheese flavoured' in the description, rather than 'cheese based' or similar.

There's also an extensive reference to Worcestershire sauce in the list of ingredients. Maybe they are hinting at a Welsh Rarebit vibe?

It appears that the genetic engineering highlighted on the pack don't quite achieve the same result as the old fashioned way to make cheese. Presumably the manufacturing is speedier doing things this way.

We tasted it. Nope. No discernible cheese flavour, more one of a sharpness, maybe a bitterness - which links back to my opening thought.

The quest for a decent cheese around this area will continue.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

House of Blues Sunday Brunch


You go to the fields on week days, and have a picnic on Labor Day.
You go to town on Saturday, but go to church every Sunday

Today wasn't exactly Nutbush city limits, but a stompin' festival of gospel music, served up hot, hot, hot with a meaningful side order of brunch.

I'm not talking about quiet brunch with scrambled eggs and bacon. Oh no, this was the full on deal with everything from blackened catfish, through macaroni and cheese to brisket from the skillet.

Same with the music. High energy, loud and proud. The band and singers owned the stage. Yes, we were once again at the House of Blues.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

sunshine in February


Here's a short sequence of sunshine photos. It's an ideal way to spend February and maybe March, trapped in a sunny climate, with at-elbow support to provide refreshment.

I'm still taking all of the pictures on the iPhone, and it is clear that I should have adjusted the aperture on the top one.

On the other hand, I'm wearing sandals on the lounger, at the smaller pool, so what was I thinking?

And an obligatory snap of some palm trees. I had to crop the hot air balloon out of the shot in case it made it look too staged.

Pass the suncream.


Friday, 15 February 2019

Convenient emergency



It was an accident that we witnessed the Trump C-SPAN declaration of a national emergency in front of reporters on the White House lawn.

A rambling speech of over an hour, with many of the reporters sat on what looked like childrens' chairs. That alone reminded me of a tyrant dispensing egotistical pronouncements.

Then the expressions on most of their faces as they attempted to ask questions. A Fox reporter got some answers but most of the others were dissatisfied and in several cases told that they were part of fake news and essentially got nothing.

Whether Trump intends to award the initial $1.3 billion for 55 pricey miles of wall to his own companies or to those of cronies remains to be seen. We'll never know what happens now that he has a pocket attorney general. The man that will probably close down the Muller investigation too.

Trump has normalised a kind of fantasy corruption of politics. Unfortunately we are usually only a few steps behind with similar weather in the UK.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Sharkey’s town


No real chance to take a deep dive into anything at the moment.

We are all too busy having fun around the pool.

I'm using the little iPad as a keyboard again but it is still infuriatingly slow compared with a laptop because the keys don't always register.

There has been another shark in the water too. The double quote mark is different from the one used in html which makes editing picture widths rather labourious.

I'll hammer on with it for this post but may then need to make alternative arrangements.

Meanwhile we have discovered another pool and a chance for a few more minutes tranquility away from the inquisitive stingrays,

Wednesday, 13 February 2019

the road goes on forever


Sometimes you start out along a road and then it changes character. There's whole novels and movies about this kind of thing.

Part of the trick is paying enough attention and always remembering to take care at any notable junctions.

Our current journey will have those branches and mysterious signposts and we'd be foolish if we didn't stop to take stock and modify our plans from time to time along the way.



Tuesday, 12 February 2019

snakes and alligators


I could go into extended metaphor mode now, what with the slippery dealings in the UK and the swampy ones across the pond in the USA.

Instead it might be better to ponder upon the physics of a disc world, perhaps with four elephants balanced upon the back of a giant turtle?

But wait.

Here, right in the back garden, is a turtle candidate. Answers to the name "Great A'Tuin".


Monday, 11 February 2019

water's edge


A striking thing about my last two posts is the difference in the degree of tree foliage from one to the next, both within the same day. At least we are moving towards the greener look.

It is, admittedly, harder to tell in these next two pictures alongside the water's edge, relaxing for an evening meal.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

keep on truckin'


A quick look at the transport, which should be rugged enough for the planned journey. I'm told that GMC only make trucks nowadays, although this vehicle purports to be of a 2019 vintage.

I'll probably make some more observations about it later, but for now, I'll note that the factory fitted satellite navigation doesn't include maps and will not let you save a current location for future use.

It is, instead, voice operated although it has difficulties handling my variety of English, causing the system to go into frequent loops of incomprehension. I think it is called OnStar. Maybe that should be One Star?

a room with a view


It is always good to have a room with a view. I might prefer seascapes or mountains, but this urban masterpiece is also one-of-a-kind.

Saturday, 9 February 2019

filling in between the lines

This time we've headed along a long corridor ahead of our next trip.

Part way along, the floor pattern changed, just like it would in any good spy novel.

In our case it moved from heavily patterned to a light colour with occasional lines.

I suppose it was a hint of the need to fill in the grey areas between the lines?

Anyway.

Part one accomplished.

Next time we should be somewhere different.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

time takes a cigarette

Nothing has changed with that flight to Brussels. The 585 page Withdrawal Agreement remains the same as it ever was.

As a face-saver, the Political Declaration can be modified, but let's face it, it's still the equivalent of 30 pages of PowerPoint designed to be vague until after the one-way valve of the Withdrawal Agreement has closed.

What's the old quote "Everything works in PowerPoint."

Meanwhile, our stony-faced knight of the absurd continues to chase the existential ironic.

This other quote is from Albert Camus, talking about Sisyphus: "Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

circle line?


"Immobilise" - my pop art reference to "Release", by Richard Hamilton

As Mrs May continues her Sysiphean route around Europe the next meeting with Donald Tusk should be particularly interesting. I decided that the Botticelli painting of Dante's Inferno might be a little too complicated to represent the recent sentiments expressed.

Instead I was torn between a simplified 8-bit model of the 9 rings, complete with its own railway station or the upstart Onion version from 1998 with its 'special place' extra ring.

I decided that the railway station added an extra border control issue such that, despite its extra level, the expanded 10 level inferno was a better TL;DR* version and could still form the basis of a 'Place the politician' game.

Tempting as it might be, I won't fill in the gaps. After all, it could be seen as falling into a very deep pit.

*TL;DR - Too Long;Don't Read

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

magic realism


This time I've visited an excellent (and free) exhibition at the Tate Modern. Not a new show, it runs for a year, finishing in July 2019.

Magic Realism explores the aspects of Weimar Republic culture between two devastating world wars. There's themed rooms displaying the art of the period and Germany's search for cultural identity. Sometimes referred to as Neue Sachlichkeit / New Objectivity, it was defined by Franz Roh as a return to order after modern or avant-garde art (Nach Expressionismus: Magischer Realismus).

I knew my German classes would come in handy.

There's a series of rooms, with titles like 'The interior figure of the exterior world', 'The Circus/Abnormal situations', 'Pleasurable Abundance', 'Cabaret' and more. Each space is not overloaded giving a good chance to examine and think upon the themes displayed. By the end we can see an inexorable spiral towards further darkness.

The trauma of the First World War, and subsequent political uncertainty, is echoed by many Weimar artists. There's grotesque and crude pictures and no shortage of ironies. One of the first pictures is by Georg Grosz, stark in its matter-of-factness whilst portraying multiple disturbing scenes.

There's a contrast with the Pleasurable Abundance of the next section. The fuller title would be 'Pleasurable abundance - by means of new technology' - Werner Gräff illustrated modern life with a list of contemporary pastimes: "the amusement park, pleasure flying, jazz bands, elegance, Chaplin, snow-shoeing, world travel now-and-then and, if need be, spas.

However, a picture from this section by Rudolf Schlichter illustrates the contrast. Click that link to see an abundance of his work.
Speedy with the Moon/Frauenportrait(Speedy) 1933.

A careful portrait of his wife, but look behind, not just at the moon. A torn landscape, maybe more representative of the emerging environment than a direct reference to the previous war? Schlichter was one of the many artists later condemned as degenerate by the terrifying politics of mid 30s Germany.

There's a detailing in the above picture not so representative of the general style of magic realism. More often the paintings use an economy of lines and vibrant tones to convey the effect. This crop from Conrad Felixmüller's Portrait of Ernst Buchholz might be more typical.

As an aside, in my ongoing use of iPhone photography I'm noticing reflections and white balance questions, which I'd more routinely fix in raw, but can't so easily on jpegs.

The circus collection provide licence to satirise moral degradations and anxieties. This picture in the Cabaret/Adventure section is by the only woman artist, Jeanne Mammen, and illustrates a shooting range. The foreground plainly dressed woman is handing a gun to the punter at contrast with the voluptuous women targets.

There's so much more. This small exhibition is packed with interesting and thought-provoking pictures. Day-drinking unemployed military veterans. The cage of decadence. Towards Isherwood and the Cabaret movie.

For already heavy back-packing reasons I didn't buy the catalogue at the time, but subsequently ordered a copy to be delivered home.

For now, by way of a bonus track, click anywhere on August Sander's photograph of Bohemians [Willi Bongard, Gottfried Brockmann] c.1922–5, to be transported to a Tate-curated spotify playlist of over 100 Weimar Republic tunes from between 1919-1933.