Edward Willett – I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust

This is a cut&past of a review that is pending on Amazon.

I Tumble Through the Diamond Dust     Edward Willett

Twenty-one poems, mostly narrative and speculative/science fiction.

five stars

Willett writes speculative fiction, so these poems are unusual. They are also a lot of fun.

Willett’s illustrator, Wendi Nordell, has added to our enjoyment of this book with an amazing full-page drawing accompanying each poem. That makes this an even more unusual work.

Now I have to come up with a star count. Is it ‘roughly equal to best’ in a genre I’m not sure I’ve seen before?  So, as always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later. Let’s get to the real point: Willett’s words.

The title poem will give you an instant introduction to Willett’s voice. It is an imaginary first person experience, and quite moving.

For a comment on social control, turn to The Telling, where we find this: ““Stay with me a while, and help me keep /imagination’s fire burning bright. /To worship the Creator, we create,/ and thus the Single Narrative defy.” //The telling is the telling the telling!” If you think that’s a spoiler, you’re in for a surprise when you read the entire poem.

For an amazing commentary on religion and happiness, turn to Saint Billy. For a teaser, read this: “But here’s the goddamned pardon the expression truth: …”

Willett can create a tragedy around a unicorn, as in I Remember His Eyes, where we find this: “I remember the knife. The leering king /(whose glance made clear had he more time /there’d be one fewer virgin in his realm) /pulled from his belt a jagged blade and….” Again, if you think that’s a spoiler, you will find otherwise when you read the entire piece.

For an unusual take on religions and God, turn to Emily Alison Atkinson Finds God. In this longer narrative, here are some quotes to pique your interest: “Now, looking for God was something /Emily Atkinson had done all her life. /As a child she tried on churches /like ladies’ hats, …” and this: “Anyway, Emily opened this box, /and inside was a glowing white ball, /and this voice said inside her head, /“Hi, I’m God, who are you?” … ” It is impossible for me to give you the pleasure of reading this poem in a few quotes. Buy the book and turn to this page. It is a very enjoyable narrative.

For a real personal drama in a sci-fi setting turn to I Will Ride Off the Horizon, which includes a lot of interpersonal introspection, including this: “You think I do not know, /that you somehow have kept it hidden, but /you cannot hide the two-backed beast /within the scarred and pitted walls /of some tin can containing /at the most two hundred souls.” Again, that’s not really a spoiler, as the poem works up to and well beyond this point.

I have other favourites in this collection, but the above should be enough to give you a decent idea of what Willett has created for you. Now for my star count boilerplate.

My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. I rate this work on literary merit and enjoy-ability, and I think it is five star material. Highly recommended.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Review: Butterflies Lost within the Crooked Moonlight : Matt Nagin

This is a cut&paste of a review that appeared on Kindle and similarly on GoodReads.

Butterflies Lost within the Crooked Moonlight      Matt Nagin

Dystopian power in forty-five poems.

five stars

Star counts are one person’s opinion. This book’s title should prepare you for its content, but not for Nagin’s power of communication. So, as always, do not let my star count override your judgement of content. More on the stars, counting, and my rating challenges later. Let’s get to the point: Nagin’s work.

For a prose poem, turn to Immigrant Love Story, which begins thus: “Your face is my face and my future is your future and yet your face is kept behind a fence and coils of barbed wire and your face is told it needs signed documents….”

For an interesting piece of social commentary, turn to Outside Hotel Gansevoort, which ends with this: “Every man tries to look away; /seem nonchalant; fixates on /petty, obtuse concerns— uselessly. /These women run the show.” If you think that’s a spoiler, turn to this poem when you have the book.

For a fascinating relationship, turn to Wrong One, which has a surprise ending. For an even more disturbing relationship happening, turn to Night at the Waldorf.

I generally find myself annoyed about writing that’s about writing, but some authors can pull this off really well with an experience that takes you in. Nagin has done this in Report Card, which is mostly about life and other people’s expectations.

Nagin is writing experiences which will happen to you when you read. In Tinseltown Hierarchy you are caught up in a happening between various ‘actors’ and are part of this alien world. Here’s a snippet from the beginning: “The assistant spoke into the microphone /reflecting back the order from the publicist /who signaled to the grip who collaborated with….” It’s impossible for me to give you the speed of this ongoing development. Buy the book and turn to this piece.

Nagin does not live in a perfect world. For an unpleasant self-assessment, turn to Twelve Years an Adjunct Professor.

I have other favourites in this work, but the above should give you a decent feel for what’s on offer here. Now for my star count boilerplate.

My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent. Nagin stands tall with the best of them, but in his own way: more personal than W.H.Auden (The Shield of Achilles,) more gut-wrenching than Robert Frost (The Lovely Shall Be Choosers,) a bit like Archibald MacLeish (What Every Lover Learns.) Five stars here feels right on; extremely recommended.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

China: US Policy Concerns

Here you will find expert testimony on China’s ambitions and the potential for loss of US influence.

Just two quotes, emphasis mine:

In 2017, before the 90 th anniversary of the creation of the PLA, the PLARF

conducted one of the largest known joint ballistic and cruise missile live-fire drills against a mock-up of a U.S.Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) site, resembling the site in South Korea, which led to a major decline in Sino-Korean relations in 2017.

Each of these objectives will implicitly and explicitly push back on U.S. attempts to maintain alliances and sustain and expand growing partnerships. Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative — a signature foreign policy undertaking by Xi, which was elevated into the Party’s constitution at the 19th Party Congress in October 2017 — is meant to assist

in this endeavor. By 2035, the CPC plans to “realize socialist modernization in the first stage” — to build the PRC into a prosperous, modern state. This will require the pursuit of continued economic integration between Asia’s “core” and “periphery,” in the Chinese conception — the core being China and the periphery being Asia’s many smaller and less developed states. In pursuit of ‘win-win’ cooperation with these countries, China expects to make economic and diplomatic gains that will pay dividends throughout the 21st century. By 2049 — the centennial of the founding of the PRC — China intends to have cemented its position as Asia’s primary hegemon. In pursuit of this latter objective, U.S. alliances in the Asia-Pacific must be contained, if not broken altogether.

I suggest you go back to the hotlink and read that page carefully. It is expert testimony about the USA’s interests versus those of the PRC – China.
I expect China to use the Okinawa US base as a leverage point. The base is unpopular whenever US military personnel abuse young Japanese females.
I expect China to use the artificial islands in the China Sea as a leverage point. The threat of disrupting marine trade or seafaring defence will be hard to ignore. I leave you to google China Sea Islands on your own, if you’re unfamiliar with this development.
The THAAD defense system in South Korea deserves a mention. China says it can be used to monitor Chinese missiles and air traffic. The USA position is, to watch North Korea, you need to have the defense system in a short-range fast-response mode. So it ‘can’t’ be used to monitor China. (straight face assumed here, eh?)
The report made available above is thanks to the Federation of American Scientists, www.fas.org, via Secrecy News.

P < .05 means what??

I’ll add some stuff from Nature on this later, maybe.

Probability and experiments are often misunderstood.

Here is a fun example we should all read, and laugh at, and then laugh at ourselves.

Trying 20 types of candies, one in 20 comes up with a positive result. For that one, P<.05.

Since it is one of twenty, that shouldn’t be seen as ‘proof’ but the P value will be seen as such.

The Nature article insists that the pre-experiment known possibilities, including for false positives, means that many of our ‘accepted’ results are, er, well, not that acceptable.

A Picture worth a Thousand Words

I’d like a picture of Donald Trump displaying a freshly signed Executive Order. The one banning immigrants from seven mostly-Muslim countries would be nice.

I’d like to put my own caption on that image.

The Apprentice.

Other Executive Orders that come to mind include:

  • The one banning refugees
  • The one trying to repeal the Dodd-Frank Act
  • The one building a wall, without congressionally allocated funds

Any other suggestions? Please remember, he’s a star, and can do that.

Atheist

I  do not, imho, believe in the God of your religion.

My god invented nuclear fusion, powering the stars; DNA, powering life and evolution; and the human mind, powering belief and creativity.

I do not, imho, believe in the Devil of any religion. I do not believe in original sin.

I think we invented evil at the same time as we conceived of basic tenets of fair play, honesty, and generosity. If one sees a psychopath doing better than oneself, the temptation comes from our basic drives: for more (of everything.) Evil is discovered anew by each new culture, religion, or tribal organization system. Evil is discovered anew by each child growing toward adult choices.

I’ve learned not to discuss this too much. It bothers truly religious people that they cannot lead me into their promised garden of everlasting afterlife.

So I claim to be an atheist. It’s a cop-out, but it shortens the argument.

Postal Strike, Postal Service, and going Postal

Toronto, Ontario, and all of Canada may soon be hit by postal strikes.

The postal union position seems straightforward:

  • Rural workers (often female) should make as much as urban workers (often male.)
  • New hires should get the same pension (defined benefit plan) as old hands.
  • Doubtless more money would be nice.

On their website, the Canadian Union of Postal workers mention a few other things (as at this writing, sites change, eh? As usual, emphasis mine:

It is evident that the management of Canada Post has forgotten that Canada Post is not a commercial enterprise but a public service for all Canadians. Mr. Chopra spoke of the 400,000 businesses that were his “customers.” He did not mention the 35 million Canadians who have a right to decent postal service.

Canada Post managers declared that negotiations discussions were off-limits but then proceeded to use this platform to try to justify cutting pensions for the next generation of postal workers.

Mr. Chopra praised the work of Canada Post’s employees whose hard work generates the money.  Cutting future employees’ pension, trying to lock us out and stalling at the negotiating table is no way to thank us, Mr. Chopra.

There is some small substance to the claim that management of our postal service pays more attention to commercial customers than domestic recipients of mail. The top item on their website, as at this moment, includes this: (click to ‘see more’ on their site)

Canada Post can no longer guarantee a fully operational network; therefore, we are temporarily suspending the fee for the Specified Delivery Start Date option for Neighbourhood Mail.

I had to Google Specified Delivery Start Date. Bulk mail in an area can have a specified delivery start date. There is a fee for this, presumably for holding the bulk (junk) mail and releasing it on time. This fee is waived because a strike might make its service undeliverable (pun intended.)
Let me emphasize: the top item is for bulk mailers. Companies.

Those of you who bore easily can stop reading here. I’m going to provide a small comparison between Canada Post and the United States Postal Service (USPS.) The information comes from a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report which you can access, thanks to the Secrecy News project of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS.)

Service. USPS gives six-day a week mail and parcel delivery. Delivery standards were revised downward in 2012. Standards are often not met. What used to be guaranteed overnight (local mail) is not, not any more.
There is a suggestion to reduce mail delivery to five days a week. But not for packages. (As in Canada, business deliveries have management’s attention. It’s been so long since six-day delivery that my kids don’t believe it ever existed.)
As in Canada, actual service speed is crashing. (I once mailed a letter on Sunday and had the reply in my hand the following Thursday. Receipt for payment I needed that day. No way this can happen Au Canada today.)

Management. By moving workers from night shift to day shift, facility increases were required. Apparently the job bidding process is time-consuming. The logic behind this (in the referenced CRS report) escapes me. As does much of the management posturing in Canada.

Volumes. Letter volume is declining. Package volume is rising. (Same pattern as in Canada.)

Limitations. The USPS cannNot do non-postal work. This is not the case in the UK, where post offices do banking-like work. Such an extra revenue stream has been suggested in Canada.

Financial Situation. The USPS is about fifteen billion dollars in debt. It has never (in the charts shown, anyway) had more than thirty days of operating cash on hand. The USPS has defaulted on payments required into health benefit plans (which may be set up in a way that is irrational; read the full report for details.) The USPS ends every year with cash on hand, but always is borrowing. Its debt ceiling is limited by law.
So far as I know, Canada Post does not owe money.

Prices. Apparently, a good-forever international stamp costs a buck USD or so. Mail goes for something like forty-five cents USD. A lot cheaper than Canada. The USPS has strictly controlled prices and, through two court actions, was allowed a temporary surcharge to make up for a volume shortfall caused by the crash of 2008.

Canadian prices go up all the time. And we no longer have good-forever stamps.

Fleet. Mostly long-use vehicles (24 years) with an average age of 23 last year, the USPS needs new delivery vehicles.
In Canada, we purchased a new fleet of small vans for home delivery, and then announced we were transitioning to all homeowner-pickup delivery. This shift has been stalled by the new Liberal government under Justin Trudeau. However, reverting back has also been stalled by our Federal Government while ‘studies’ are done. We may be using our postal strike as an excuse to break an election promise.

Mandate. The USPS is mandated to deliver mail. It once was essentially a government agency; now it is mandated to cover its own costs. The fact that it cannot do this is generating a lot of heat and light, and now a CRS report so Congress will be informed enough to, perhaps, decide to change the rules or the playing field.

It appears that our American neighbours see their postal system as a business and then as a service, not as an essential service or natural right. In Canada, we don’t seem to know what we think. CP seems to think it’s a business.
We allowed new neighbourhoods to not-get home delivery, without a whimper. We allowed postal spokesfolks to tell us that the elderly would (I actually heard this said on TV) be grateful for being forced to go for a walk to get their mail. This for my neighbour, who can hardly cross a room, but should be rejoicing to be made to cross snowdrifts to get junk mail.
I don’t think the Federal Government is watching this very closely, as they are unwilling to interfere in what skunks might call a hissing contest. However, Justin Trudeau should, imho, have  the equivalent of a CRS report being built on the entire postal service, so his government can do at least a few sensible things after we go on strike. Like, fix the long term financing: is it an essential service? Should it be subsidized?

Conclusions (mine, of course, eh?)

  • Part of the strike is about costs. I think the Federal Government should fix this. (Take more tax from oil extractors and profiteering banks, and use it to fund the mail. Heresy, eh?)
  • Part of the strike is about pensions. I think that defined benefit plans should be (for all permanent workers, as minimum) available, incented, and that the Federal Government should run them. It’s never gone broke, eh? Just increase the deficit!
  • The Canadian Postal Service is cutting off its nose to spite its face. Several years ago, a postal strike caused this household to switch to telephone banking to pay bills. We have the usual household stuff: gas, hydro, water/garbage, phone, internet, cable tv, and taxes. Plus a handful of other bills, like credit cards.
    We pay all of these on the Internet today.
    We used to mail cheques.
  • Some of the CPS revenue comes from junk mail. My first visit to a pick-up mailbox will include putting a ‘no junk mail’ sticker on my slot. I’m not shuffling glossy fliers while wearing gloves and stomping the snow down.
    My neighbours already have ‘no junk mail’ on their mailbox lid. I checked: it’s legal and binding. No junk mail.
  • Part of the strike is about arrogance. I think Canada Post has a typical case of Big Business / Swelled Head. Like the epi pen price increase by the pharmaceutical manufacturer, reduced service with increased prices are seen as things that can be gotten away with. Charging more for less is seen as a right, especially when the product is not readily replaceable.
  • Part of the strike is about money. Salaries of the Canada Post head office staff, especially the top positions, would be nice to know. What they pay for advertising, lobbying, and contracted services should be part of Justin Trudeau’s audit.
  • Part of the strike is about equality. New hires versus old. Rural/female versus urban/male.

I’ve written the latter points as though I think a long and bitter strike is inevitable. Given the negotiation skills demonstrated to date, I think inevitable (can’t be avoided by the participants) is dead on.

Annoying ‘Support’ from WordPress

This is a technical rant. Maybe someone on the WordPress team will actually think about this complaint.

Your ‘improvements’ to hotlink-adding don’t help me; in fact they waste a lot of my time.

Background:

WordPress provides very nice support for this blog. I almost don’t need to know html. The single case, for several years, was making a forward hotlink into a specific spot on my own page. (‘Jump to this book.’) For this I need to know a bit of html.

For including hotlinks to outside web pages, the support was generous. Find the page, ctrl-c the URL, select the text to ‘be’ the hotlink, and click the paperclip icon. Up comes a dialogue which allows four things:

  1. Entering the URL. Generally by ctrl-v.
  2. Checking the box for ‘open in a new window’ option.
  3. Adding ‘mouseover’ text
  4. (never used by me) selecting from some historical search choices. Not clear what this is useful for.

Several updates back, the WordPress Support Team arranged it so, if you actually typed anything in to box 3. above, it replaced the text you selected to be the ‘blue’ hotlink. For example, if I wanted ‘here’ to be a hotlink, selected that, clicked the paperclip, and added (say) Star Article as mouseover text, instead of that becoming mouseover, it would replace the word ‘here’ with ‘Star Article.’ There was no way of inputting mouseover text anymore.

My bug report on this was closed, marked as a duplicate. So I waited for the older report to be fixed. And waited. Finally I tracked down the earlier bug report to discover that it had been closed, marked, ‘we did this on purpose.’

So, in this dialogue box, there is a slot to allow you to mess up your blog text. That you’re not supposed to use.
But wait, with a later ‘improvement’, this got better.

I found out how, in ‘text’ editing mode, to add mouseover text. Find the html that has the hotlink, and before the URL, add
“title=Star Article”
with one trailing space. Return to ‘visual’ editing and all is well.

This simple, but time-wasting, fix now is more complicated. And more time-wasting. Thanks to yet another ‘improvement.’

Once the paperclip has been clicked on, a new and smaller dialogue box comes up. It allows you to simply paste in a URL. However, if you want to ‘open in a new window’ you have to click on the gear icon.
Now you are back at the old dialogue, and will have to add in the mouseover text later, as before.
And, when this dialogue box closes, the ‘short form’ is still there and you Must Not click on the ‘X’ as this will delete all your hotlink input. You must click outside the new small box to close it.
Then you still have to add the mouseover text in ‘text’ editing mode.

To recap:

What once was one click on a paperclip, plus one paste, one check-box, and one text entry,

has become

one click on a paperclip, followed by
one click on a gear icon, followed by
one paste and one check-box entry, followed by
close the dialogue
carefully click outside the still-open mini-box, followed by
switch to text editing mode, followed by
scan down looking for the right spot in the html, followed by
type in title=”text of title”     followed by
switch to visual mode, followed by
check to see if the mouseover actually works.

Thanks. Thanks to you for the patience to read this far. Tell WordPress what you think, eh?

Variations on Justice

Sharia justice includes elements I cannot comprehend. (Please read to the end, eh?)

Maybe I misunderstand the historical context. If a nomadic tribe, where everyone knows everyone, has a serious criminal discovered in their midst, it is conceivable that:

  • everyone knows who did it
  • the truth of the crime is clear and uncomplicated
  • the survival of the group depends on deterrence

In this case, it is conceivable that group survival depends on extreme punishments: beheading, stoning, mutilation.

Maybe. But in a ‘modern’ ‘society’ we pride ourselves on doing things differently.

  • Some ‘enforcement’ agents have actively promoted torture
  • Some ‘enforcement’ agents actively induce crimes to be committed
  • Some ‘enforcement’ agencies arbitrarily blacklist individuals (infants on do-not-fly lists; Maher Arar sent, on false Canadian information, into torture in Syria)

The ‘big advantage’ we have in our so-called modern society is the judicial system and its prisons. Let’s have a closer look:
Our judicial system can take years (ask Mike McCormack about this) with inequitable results: serious charges dropped due to delay, while other suspects are held long-term while awaiting trial.
Certain forms of evidence, and certain sources of that evidence, are overly relied on with disastrous results. Look up ‘Motherisk‘ for an example.
Our prison system is rife with drug and other criminal activity, and our use of solitary confinement is gradually becoming recognized as a form of torture.

Our justice system includes elements I cannot comprehend.

An Islamic State primer

This is courtesy of Federation of American Scientists, via their blog/eMail Secrecy News.

A CRS report is one created by the Congressional Research Service at the request of the US Congress, or a committee therein, or whatever.

CRS reports are not generally available to the public. Steven Aftergood of Secrecy News of the F.A.S. fixes this.

I will not give any quotes. Click on this link to see a recent CRS report on IS or ISIL.

You have a right to know what’s roughly best information on IS in the USA right now.

Enjoy.