Monday, May 28, 2018

New Lighting

The downstairs room is awkward.  It's 24'  long, with only one ceiling box at one end.  How to light the whole room?  Recessed lights are good, but a big project unless your sheetrock is open.  I decided to use the existing ceiling box and run some lighting from there down the length of the room.


Decided to go with the flexible track LED lighting, Home Depot Hampton Bay El Cheapo.  Regular tracklight is cheaper, but they're mounted right on the ceiling.  The flexible stuff is slightly suspended.


I always thought this stuff was kind of jakey, the way people run it in spirals and waves and try to make seashells and stuff. But I thought if I just made one long slight curve it would look OK.


Kind of a bear to install.  Had to lay a rope on the floor in the shape and position I wanted, then use a plumb to mark the mounting spots on the ceiling.  Used a hard disk magnet to locate the drywall screws/joists.


I had to join two tracks together end-to-end, and for some reason I had a hard time getting continuity between the two.  Only discovered this after putting the track in the stanchions and testing some lights.  Had to take it down like 3 times, experimenting and testing with the meter.  I think it was the copper conductor sliding around in the track and not making contact in the connector.  Anyway finally got it working.


The other irritating thing was that each tracklight head had 4 separate warning stickers on it.  I probably spent an hour taking the stickers off and using Goo Gone to get the sticker gunk off them.  8 or 9 lights times 4 stickers....thanks Nanny State.


End result is OK.  Like any tracklight they glare, and when they hit you in the eye it's pretty bright, it's sorta like being in a trendy retail shop, but it's a big improvement over the prior dim 'n dank look.









Thursday, April 26, 2018

Pinochet

"In the 1988 plebiscite in Chile, the Chilean people at last had the option to vote General Pinochet and his military junta out of office. The film "NO" follows the ad campaign to get people to vote NO, trying to convince people that they could vote without fear, and that they could choose democracy once again for their country..."
"Pinochet lost the plebiscite (against his own expectations), but he still got over 40% of the vote. Over 40% of Chileans were fine with military dictatorship. They were fine with people disappearing and being tortured, raped and murdered by the government. They were fine with propaganda, and the shut-down of a free press, and years without a chance to vote … They liked having a strong man in power. They found him thrilling and commanding. They didn’t want a democratic leader; they wanted a king. I spent years studying Latin American countries, and I had a sense that democracy can be quite fragile. But I did not realize how casual a huge portion of the American people could be about tossing it away."
"When Trump obstructs justice and tears down the firewall between different branches of government — again, they find him terribly thrilling and commanding! They watch State TV (aka FOX) and they believe what all the king’s men tell them about the state of the world. And sadly, that probably will not change. We may be able to save US democracy, just as democracy was restored in Chile and other countries that allowed it to be destroyed — but we should never, ever forget that the 40% who do not value it at all are out there."


Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Ian Fleming On Nation-Building




I’ve spent the past 18 months or so immersed in the electronic news media, being pummeled with anxious messages about “democracy.”  Certainly we have a president in office whose inclinations, if we’re being honest, are decidedly anti-democratic.  And the Washington Post has added a catch-phrase to their masthead: “Democracy Dies In Darkness” – whatever that means.  So what is this Democracy stuff?  I’m here to discuss.

The premise of all the furor is that democracy is good.  Do we really like democracy?  Democracy is  frustrating; it takes forever to get anything done; you’re lucky if you get 50% of what you want in terms of policy.  But let’s cut to the chase: basically we like its concepts of accountability and transparency, because no one wants to live under a system that might allow a brutal oppressive corrupt regime to come to power, denying its victims any means of seeking recourse or relief.

And it seems to be stipulated in American public discourse that democratic systems are the best, and should be encouraged everywhere.  Are they the best?  If democratic representative government is “the best,” the most robust and effective system, why aren’t all the world’s nations representative democracies?

The answer is that democratic systems are NOT robust, they are inefficient and fragile, and require educated, enlightened participation to sustain them and make them work.  Given this, is it reasonable to expect that any given nation, regardless of its history or culture, could be a suitable host for democratic government?  Look at Russia, which, after the downfall of the Soviet system, started afresh with democratic elections – and quickly fell back under the yoke of corruption and criminality.


Indeed, look at the sizable portion of the US electorate who is ready to hand authoritarian power to a single person, without concern for his corruption and malignancy.

Being thoroughly pickled from my media immersion, and fearing for my sanity, I put down the mobile devices and picked up some paperbacks. 

Ian Fleming wrote “From Russia With Love” in 1957.  Early parts of the story take place in Turkey, scenes of which Fleming describes with imaginative detail.  With the media jabber about democracy, corruption, nationalism, racism, bigotry etc. resonating in my mind, a couple passages stood out.  I will quote them:

[On arrival at Istanbul airport] “So these dark, neat, ugly little officials were the modern Turks.  He listened to their voices…and watched the dark eyes that belied soft, polite voices. They were bright, angry, cruel eyes that had only lately come down from the mountains… They were eyes that had been trained for centuries to watch over sheep and decipher small movements on far horizons.  They were eyes that kept the knife-hand in sight without seeming to, that counted the grains of meal and the small fractions of coin and noted the flicker of the merchant’s fingers.  They were hard, untrusting, jealous eyes.”

  
[A local Turkish capo] “...’That is the only way to treat these damned people.  It is all they understand.  It is in the blood.  All this pretence of democracy is killing them.  They want some sultans and war and rape and fun.  Poor brutes, in their striped suits and bowler hats.  They are miserable.  You’ve only got to look at them.’”


Well there you have it – if Ian Fleming wrote it, it must be a universal truth: some people just aren’t ready for the civilized niceties of democracy.  I imagine we’ve all witnessed instances where some person, through accident or luck, has handed to him some responsibility that’s he’s just not ready for.  It’s often not pretty.  And everyone knows a story of some person biting the hand that fed them.

But my intention is not to promote some “screw the Turks”message.  Or to malign any nation or region or people.  In fact, good people can and do come from everywhere –- they’re just darn few, and far between. 



Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Letter to Senators Feinstein & Harris

Congress has cravenly abdicated responsibility in pursuing even the most benign gun safety legislation, offering instead "prayers" over the daily production of dead bodies.  Since "prayer" is the only accepted solution for gun control, I recommend a protest bill mandating daily anti-murder prayer for all Americans.  Something along the lines of :

"Daily at noon, all US citizens will spend 15 minutes calling upon one or more divine beings to prevent unfit people from purchasing weapons, or alternatively, to "save us" from murder by semi-automatic and automatic weapons exceeding .22 caliber, and containing magazines with a capacity greater than 7 cartridges.  Prayers must be conducted in an earnest, forthright and unequivocal manner."

You'll probably encounter some objection from the church-state separationist crowd; this will be easily defeated by accusing them of "hating Jesus."

Clearly it's not possible to control guns through any earthly or human effort.  We must then marshal the spiritual resources of our population to call then upon the heavenly forces to resolve this wicked problem.  Thank you.

Friday, August 11, 2017

North Korea: Good Thing/Bad Thing?

I always felt that North Korea was one of the great tragedies of the 20th Century.  The Korean people, to generalize, possess robust social capital -- a culture of talent, responsibility and ambition.  To have that rich potential suppressed, indeed brutalized, by a troglodytic autocracy is, in the vernacular, "#SAD."

The recent increase in tensions has me looking further ahead and assessing possible outcomes. Presumably the goal of the North Korean leadership is their own preservation, and thus they may engage in brinksmanship, but probably won't do anything stupid.  But what if they do something precipitous which results in the US toppling the regime?


There are multiple scenarios about how this may play out, but it ranges from a reunification of North and South, to a separate North Korea under kinder, gentler Chinese oversight.  Either way the North Koreans would be relieved of the yoke of deprivation, and almost certainly pursue economic development which will compound the existing formidable economic competition from Asia.


Is this the outcome that we in the West want?  Many constituencies in the West spend a lot of time complaining about the perniciousness of Asian competition.  Do we want to spend lives and dollars to create yet more economic competition from the Far East?


During the French and Indian War, there were arguments in the British government that driving the French out of North America would be problematic, in that the French were a threat to the American colonies, and as such kept the colonies dependent on British protection, and thus tractable and compliant.  Indeed many suggest the ouster of the French was the rootstock of the revolution.


Oppression offends democratic sensibilities. I personally am sympathetic to the plight of people living under despotic regimes.  But if we undertake to resolve that plight, our efforts may not only go unrewarded, but may produce new and unwelcome challenges.


Besides, without communist make-work jobs, these will be replaced by traffic lights -- who wants to lose these cultural icons?













Saturday, July 29, 2017

Puzzler

A clever puzzle gift from the Pergelator, composed of nine irregular pieces.




Analysis shows it to be composed of triangles and squares in a regular pattern:


It can be solved in myriad different ways.  I'll leave it to the mathematics geniuses to calculate how many variations.








Monday, April 3, 2017

Children's Fairyland

April 2017 -- Recently visited to Children's Fairyland, a small theme park right in the middle of downtown Oakland, on lake Merritt.  Built in 1950.  A bit small and primitive by today's standards; nonetheless, small kids like it, it's charming in it's own way, and close, and accessible, and inexpensive.

More interesting is its history, and recognizable Disney references.  Built in 1950, it was one of the original themed amusement parks in the US.  Disney visited when developing ideas for Disneyland.  The park contains a lot of elements from earlier Disney movies like Pinocchio and Snow White, and a lot of the features in the park are motifs that would later be elaborated on a grander scale in Disneyland ... at least that's what I think, see the pictures and decide for yourself.


Wiki:

"Fairyland was built in 1950 by the Oakland Lake Merritt Breakfast Club, a local service club. The park was immediately recognized nationally for its unique value, and during the City Beautiful movement of the 1950s it inspired numerous towns to create their own parks. Walt Disney toured many amusement parks in 1950, including Children’s Fairyland, seeking ideas for what turned out to be Disneyland. He hired the first director of Fairyland, Dorothy Manes, to work at Disneyland as youth director, in which position she continued from the park's opening until 1972...."

"The park opened on September 2, 1950. Admission was 9 to 14 cents, depending on age. The original guides to the park were a dwarfish married couple dressed in glamorous Munchkin-style costumes. The park was reported on nationally, with numerous newsreels shot in the park. The original sets included Pinocchio's Castle, ThumbelinaThree Billy Goats Gruff, The Merry Miller, The Three Little Pigs, Willie the Whale, and several others. The entrance to the park was through the shoe illustrating the Old Woman in the Shoe. The entrance through the shoe was sized for children, so that adults had to bend over to go through."




Typical stylized structures with zany dimensions...

























Snow White ... how they escaped Disney lawsuits I don't know...




















Pirate ship with crow's nest...






















Livery stable in the "Old West" section...
A whale that you can walk through ...


...compare to "Monstro" ride at
Disneyland.