The Town Scryer is a mixed bag of humor, socio-political observations and ephemera from the perspective of a eclectic Pagan veteran of the counter-culture.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

The Continuing Legacy of Land Mines

A mahout removes the prosthetic leg from Motala, age 50, at the Friends of the Asian Elephant elephant hospital in the Mae Yao National Reserve Lampang,Thailand. Motala lost a foot many years back after stepping on a land mine and now is on her third prosthetic, as they need to be changed according to the weight of the elephant.

   Still the U.S. refuses to sign the Ottawa treaty banning land mines.

     Be seeing you.

    Source: Sloth Unleashed

Remembering an Different Kind of Hero

I wrote the following in 2004 as the war in Iraq was spiraling out of control and there seemed precious few voices of reason. Now we are approaching the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11th attacks. Lots of flags are being stocked on the supermarket shelves. Television specials are being prepared. Soon pundits and politicians will once again wave the bloody shirt and speak of resolve and of freedom while using those words to justify continued surrendering of blood and fortune while giving up still more of the freedom that we claim to protect.

I thought it might me a good time to speak once again for the memory of a different kind of hero.

 Some Thoughts in the Year of the War
                  Philip Posehn

 When I was a small boy during the most frigid part of the Cold War, many of the boys I played with would boast of their father’s combat record in either Korea or in World War II. I was raised by my grandparents, my mother having died when I was only three. As a result, my father figure was far too old to have served in the military. In any case, he was a Lutheran minister and as such would have been exempt from service. In that time of cheap superficial patriotism such things were of great import in the minds of small boys. I suppose it must have bothered me a bit for I recall one day my grandmother opened a locked drawer in her desk and took out a rolled piece of parchment and what looked like a very large coin, some two inches in diameter which was made of bronze. She carefully untied the purple ribbon with which the parchment was bound and read from it to me.
     The bronze coin, I learned, was a medal from President Wilson that had been given to my grandfather for his service during The Great War, as World War I was called before we began to number them. He was one of a group of ministers who, because they were fluent in both German and English, had volunteered to stand between the angry mob bent on harming the German-American community and their intended victims… armed only with good intentions and his faith. She then showed me the signature of the president and the seal and ribbon. You could hear her pride in her trembling voice as she read the name to me.
    My grandfather’'s example was a great source of pride to me and greatly influenced my own personal decision later when I came of age during the war in Viet Nam. I became a draft counselor and an outspoken opponent of the war, …but that is not my point in this story. It is rather that we are told that service to one’'s country is done with blood and with the taking, and sometimes the losing of life. This is not so. The greatest acts of service and of courage are often acts of peace. It takes more bravery to stand alone against the mob with blood in their eye, unarmed, than to go forth into even the worthiest of battles.
   This is a time for men of peace to stand, alone if need be, in opposition to the mob.

   We are in woefully short supply of quiet, articulate heroes.

    Be seeing you.

Images of Innocence

The Cheney who wasn't a monster.

Be seeing you.

Images from Vintage Vixen Obsessed

German City Finds New Way To Raise Revenue: Hooker Meters

    In the German city of Bonn sex workers who walk the streets must buy an all evening pass from a vending machine-ostensibly to make the taxes paid by women who work in brothels fairer. As of Monday street prostitutes had to pay a 6 Euros fee at start of business, regardless of the number of customers served. A notice on the machine defines working hours as Monday through Sunday, 8:15 PM to 6:00 AM.

     This is the first meter employed for this purpose. In Dortmund there is a similar daily permit, but there it is sold at gas stations. City spokeswoman Monika Frombgen said that the machines were designed for women who might have limited German skills and thus have difficulty with income tax forms. Inspectors are sent out to check tickets and a prostitute found working without a permit will first be let off with a warning, followed by fines and possibly a ban.

     Bonn, the capitol of both West Germany and unified Germany until 1999, has been facing financial difficulties lately. The city introduced a tax on prostitution at the beginning of the year. The city of about 325,000 expects to raise 300,000 Euros a year from this source.

Auf weidersehen.

Source: The Local

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

I Want My Zeppelin!

    I was born in the 50s. Mother died when I was three and I was raised by my maternal grandparents. As a result, I learned to read from the books that were used to teach my older brothers who were born  some eighteen before I was. I read wonderful storybooks of the deeds of the heroes and Gods of the Greeks illustrated by Maxfield Parrish. I had a set of "The Book of Knowledge" (an encyclopedia) printed in the thirties that showed the travel time to the planets by steam locomotive. This last my explain my later love of surrealism.

    My very first book was a very large one that taught me the alphabet, beginning with,

     A is for


      Of course by the time I read those words the great airships were a thing of the past and all that remained were their poor relations, the Goodyear blimps. It took me a while to fully grasp this reality. After all, they were in the encyclopedia (1936 edition, remember?) so they had to exist. 

    As a result, I grew up watching with awe and wonder as the astronauts rode the pillars of fire into the night sky while at the same time yearning for a Zeppelin with which to set sail upon the clouds at a more leisurely speed. Now steam punk and airships are all the vogue and as the price of gasoline continues to rise there is talk of bringing the grand airships back into production. There is already one in the San Francisco area taking passengers aloft and the Zeppelin Company is still around and creating new modern designs.

    I may not ever get my jet pack, aber Ich Kann einen Zeppelin haben!

    Isn't it great living in the retro-future?

     Be seeing you.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Feds Raid Gibson Guitars

   Now they've gone too far...

"Last week, the feds apparently raided the premises of Gibson Guitar, searching for "illegal wood" used in those guitars. Apparently, the government and Gibson have been involved in an ongoing lawsuit for some time, after the feds seized some guitars in 2009 and a case commenced against the wood in the guitar (yes, against the wood, since it was one of those "in rem" cases): "United States of America v. Ebony Wood in Various Forms." Apparently, now the government is taking it up a notch, and while there is a grandfather clause, if you get your paperwork just marginally wrong and happen to own a Gibson guitar with illegal wood, the government could seize it and fine you. Apparently, a bunch of musicians are reasonably afraid, and some suggest not taking any such guitar out of the country if you ever plan on bringing it back:

It's not enough to know that the body of your old guitar is made of spruce and maple: What's the bridge made of? If it's ebony, do you have the paperwork to show when and where that wood was harvested and when and where it was made into a bridge? Is the nut holding the strings at the guitar's headstock bone, or could it be ivory? "Even if you have no knowledge—despite Herculean efforts to obtain it—that some piece of your guitar, no matter how small, was obtained illegally, you lose your guitar forever," Prof. Thomas has written. "Oh, and you'll be fined $250 for that false (or missing) information in your Lacey Act Import Declaration."

tech dirt

     Henry Juszkiewicz, Chairman and CEO of Gibson Guitar Corp., has responded to the August 24 raid of Gibson facilities in Nashville and Memphis by the Federal Government. In a press release, Juszkiewicz said: “Gibson is innocent and will fight to protect its rights. Gibson has complied with foreign laws and believes it is innocent of ANY wrong doing. We will fight aggressively to prove our innocence.”
The raids forced Gibson to cease manufacturing operations and send workers home for the day while armed agents executed the search warrants. “Agents seized wood that was Forest Stewardship Council controlled,” Juszkiewicz said. “Gibson has a long history of supporting sustainable and responsible sources of wood and has worked diligently with entities such as the Rainforest Alliance and Greenpeace to secure FSC-certified supplies. The wood seized on August 24 satisfied FSC standards.”
Juszkiewicz believes that the Justice Department is bullying Gibson without filing charges.
“The Federal Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. has suggested that the use of wood from India that is not finished by Indian workers is illegal, not because of U.S. law, but because it is the Justice Department’s interpretation of a law in India. (If the same wood from the same tree was finished by Indian workers, the material would be legal.) This action was taken without the support and consent of the government in India.”
To read the entire press release, click here.

     I bought my first Gibson guitar in 1970. Gibson is still my brand of choice. I urge the guitarists who read this to speak out. There is something going on here that I suspect has nothing at all to do with the environment.

    Be seeing you.

Photo of raid from Wall Street Journal article linked above.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Why Libraries Are Important

Harvesting The Blue Blood Of Horseshoe Crabs

One may wonder why the horseshoe crab is sensitive to endotoxin and, furthermore, how does the crab benefit from this phenomenon? As we know, seawater is a virtual “bacterial soup”. Typical near-shore areas that form the prime habitat of the horseshoe crab can easily contain over one billion Gram-negative bacteria per milliliter of seawater. Thus, the horseshoe crab is constantly threatened with infection. Unlike mammals, including humans, the horseshoe crab lacks an immune system; it cannot develop antibodies to fight infection. However, the horseshoe crab does contain a number of compounds that will bind to and inactivate bacteria, fungi, and viruses. The components of LAL are part of this primitive “immune” system. The components in LAL, for example, not only bind and inactivate bacterial endotoxin, but the clot formed as a result of activation by endotoxin provides wound control by preventing bleeding and forming a physical barrier against additional bacterial entry and infection. It is one of the marvels of evolution that the horseshoe crab uses endotoxin as a signal for wound occurrence and as an extremely effective defense against infection.
Photo via Fresh Photons, but to read about this, I recommend the website.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Germany's Trains Going Carbon-Free

(Reuters) Germany's Deutsche Bahn announced today that it intends to have the German rail system carbon free by 2050.

     "Deutsche Bahn says it wants to raise the percentage of wind, hydro and solar energy to power its trains from 20 percent now to 28 percent in 2014 and become carbon-free by 2050.
"Consumers in Germany have made it clear they want us all to get away from nuclear energy and to more renewable energy," Hans-Juergen Witschke, chief executive of Deutsche Bahn Energie, said of the railway's attention-grabbing revised targets that exceed the government's already ambitious national aims.
"It's what customers want and we're making it happen," Witschke said in an interview with Reuters. "The demand for green electricity keeps rising each year and that'll continue."

     Let me get this straight. Not only does Germany have a 200 mile an hour train, but they appear to be likely to have the entire thing running entirely on wind, solar and hydroelectric  power before the Republicans get around to deciding if they'll accept the funding in their states. Oh and their rail industry is voluntarily exceeding the green requirements of the government because their customers want them to.  

"Germany is already a world leader in renewable energy. About 17 percent comes from renewables, up from 6 percent in 2000.
The German government aims to raise that share to 35 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. Witschke said Deutsche Bahn will have 35 or 40 percent by 2020 and 100 percent by mid-century.
"We've got a vision of being carbon free by 2050. That's not just a declaration of intent. It's a concrete business target."

    And I'm supposed to be afraid of socialism?

     Auf widersehen.


The Iceland Solution

   From La Muse Verte. Link to full original source at the end.

     An Italian radio program’s story about Iceland’s on-going revolution is a stunning example of how little our media tells us about the rest of the world.Americans may remember that at the start of the 2008 financial crisis, Iceland literally went bankrupt.  The reasons were mentioned only in passing, and since then, this little-known member of the European Union fell back into oblivion.

As one European country after another fails or risks failing, imperiling the Euro, with repercussions for the entire world, the last thing the powers that be want is for Iceland to become an example. Here’s why:
Five years of a pure neo-liberal regime had made Iceland, (population 320 thousand, no army), one of the richest countries in the world. In 2003 all the country’s banks were privatized, and in an effort to attract foreign investors, they offered on-line banking whose minimal costs allowed them to offer relatively high rates of return. The accounts, called IceSave, attracted many English and Dutch small investors.  But as investments grew, so did the banks’ foreign debt.  In 2003 Iceland’s debt was equal to 200 times its GNP, but in 2007, it was 900 percent.  The 2008 world financial crisis was the coup de grace. The three main Icelandic banks, Landbanki, Kapthing and Glitnir, went belly up and were nationalized, while the Kroner lost 85% of its value with respect to the Euro.  At the end of the year Iceland declared bankruptcy…
What happened next was extraordinary. The belief that citizens had to pay for the mistakes of a financial monopoly, that an entire nation must be taxed to pay off private debts was shattered, transforming the relationship between citizens and their political institutions and eventually driving Iceland’s leaders to the side of their constituents. The Head of State, Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, refused to ratify the law that would have made Iceland’s citizens responsible for its bankers’ debts, and accepted calls for a referendum.
Of course the international community only increased the pressure on Iceland. Great Britain and Holland threatened dire reprisals that would isolate the country…
In the March 2010 referendum, 93% voted against repayment of the debt.  The IMF immediately froze its loan.  But the revolution (though not televised in the United States), would not be intimidated. With the support of a furious citizenry,the government launched civil and penal investigations into those responsible for the financial crisisInterpol put out an international arrest warrant for the ex-president of Kaupthing, Sigurdur Einarsson, as the other bankers implicated in the crash fled the country.
But Icelanders didn’t stop there: they decided to draft a new constitution that would free the country from the exaggerated power of international finance and virtual money.
To write the new constitution, the people of Iceland elected twenty-five citizens from among 522 adults not belonging to any political party but recommended by at least thirty citizens. This document was not the work of a handful of politicians, but was written on the internet.
Refusing to bow to foreign interests, that small country stated loud and clear that the people are sovereign.
That’s why it is not in the news anymore.

Link to full original article:

Signs And Portents

    What with the economy and the abrupt end of the Aztec calendar come next December at the solstice, there's a lot of talk about the End of the World.* Most of us just smile and nod. After all, we had one false start on that already back in May with poor old Harold Camping.

     Before that we all remember the millennium scare. We didn't even get the promised global computer failure, let alone the final battle between good and evil...or did we?

    Consider: The year 2000 ushered in eight years of George W. Bush who was  inaugurated in January of 2001, the actual millennium. Eight years of war later he managed to screw up the economy and set America on the road to being a police state.

   Now the 2012 election is looming and the front runners are Mitt  Romney, who used to make a living gutting companies and shipping jobs off shore, Michelle Bachman, and Rick Perry-who are like Sarah Palin and George W. Bush, but without the intellect or the ethics.

    It may not be an apocalypse, but it looks a lot like a plague of  toads.

     Be seeing you.


* The End of the World is the registered trademark of Dominionist Christianity, inc.


(Click to enlarge)

Be seeing you.

All images from my-ear-trumpet has been struck by lightning, which I do commend to all of those interested in steam punk.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Forlorn Shipwrecks Of The Desert

When I was a boy learning geography, the Aral Sea was the fourth largest lake in the world. Even then its salinity was so high that it was said to be impossible to drown in it. Beginning in the 1960s the Soviet government diverted most of the water from the two rivers that fed the Aral Sea for crop irrigation in Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The lake began to shrink, slowly at first, but by the 90s the rate had accelerated and not long after the turn of the century it had split into smaller lakes. By this time the salt content combined with toxic waste had become far too concentrated to support life and the fishing industry died.

      From Wikipedia:
     The ecosystem of the Aral Sea and the river deltas feeding into it has been nearly destroyed, not least because of the much higher salinity. The receding sea has left huge plains covered with salt and toxic chemicals – the results of weapons testing, industrial projects, pesticides and fertilizer runoff – which are picked up and carried away by the wind as toxic dust and spread to the surrounding area. The land around the Aral Sea is heavily polluted and the people living in the area are suffering from a lack of fresh water and health problems, including high rates of certain forms of cancer and lung diseases. Respiratory illnesses including tuberculosis (most of which is drug resistant) and cancer, digestive disorders, anaemia, and infectious diseases are common ailments in the region. Liver, kidney and eye problems can also be attributed to the toxic dust storms. Health concerns associated with the region are a cause for an unusually high fatality rate amongst vulnerable parts of the population. There is a high child mortality rate of 75 in every 1,000 newborns and maternity death of 12 in every 1,000 women.[16] Crops in the region are destroyed by salt being deposited onto the land. Vast salt plains exposed by the shrinking Aral have produced dust storms, making regional winters colder and summers hotter.

Be seeing you.

Photos from: Disasters of the Aral Sea

And You Can't Put That In A Kindle

Lignin, the stuff that prevents all trees from adopting the weeping habit, is a polymer made up of units that are closely related to vanillin. When made into paper and stored for years, it breaks down and smells good. Which is how divine providence has arranged for secondhand bookstores to smell like good quality vanilla absolute, subliminally stoking a hunger for knowledge in all of us.
Why secondhand bookstores smell good 

In Germany, The Fishermen Joust

     In Bavaria, each Assumption day (August 15), The fishermen take to Lake Staffelsee to engage in the time honored sport of Fischerstechen, or Fishermen Joust.

    From Wikipedia:

     It is a form of jousting where the adversaries carrying a lance and protected only by a shield stand on a platform on the stern of a boat. The boat is propelled by oarsmen or, in some cases, a motor may be used. The aim of the sport is to send the adversary into the water whilst maintaining one's own balance on the platform.
The jousters stand on a wooden platform on their boats. As the two competing boats draw level with each other, each jouster, protected by their shield, uses their lance to push his opponent off the platform and into the water. The exact rules of the contest vary from region to region and country to country.

     The practice dates back to the twelfth century C.E. in Europe as a sport, with a deadlier version dating back to ancient Egypt. 

              Chivalry is not dead. It has joined the Navy.

     Auf Weidersehen.

   Additional source: Faith In The Good

Guardians of Words

In the village of Chinguetti, once a famous gathering place for scholars to debate the finer points of Islamic law, hidden amongst the encroaching dunes of the Sahara Desert in Mauritania, the inhabitants are the guardians of centuries-old manuscripts, amongst the oldest in Islam.
Although largely abandoned to the desert, the city features a series of medieval manuscript libraries.
These “desert librarians” are struggling to save this treasure from wind and sand as remnants from the time when Chinguetti was a flourishing city along the caravan route, a cultural lighthouse for poets and scholars alike.

Rejection Letter

(Click to enlarge)

Be seeing you.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Corn Syrup For The Mind

  I went to see the film "Captain America" the other day. Several of my friends had been raving about it and the trailer looked promising.

     I was pleasantly surprised. It was a good movie.

     Don't misunderstand me. I wasn't surprised because it was a good comic book adaptation. I was surprised because I can't remember the last time I saw a new film that told an actual, coherent story. I think it may have been "Death At A Funeral".  Not the remake, the British one. The one that came out in 2007.

     Generally speaking, my movie theater experience goes something like this: I spend $20 or $30 (3-D) on tickets for myself and a companion. Spend a bit more on liquids. I watch ten minutes of advertising. I watch five minutes of trailers. I see a film with lots of action sequences and mind-boggling computer graphic images doing wondrous things. If it was adapted for 3-D, lots of things are thrown at the camera and/ or there are long panoramic shots of breathtaking vistas. The movie ends and I feel like I had a pretty good time.

     Then I try to describe the story to a friend. I'm lucky if I can manage two sentences. Mind you, I used to be a film critic. I used to have no trouble producing 600 words on a film. Now days there's no there there. The modern mass market film is the intellectual equivalent of high-fructose corn syrup. It gives you a quick rush but it lacks intellectually nutritious content...and it makes your brain obese.

    Television is even worse. The pacing has become so rapid that characters completing each other's sentences has taken the place of actual dialogue. It may actually be impossible to market a character driven story any more. Advertising that consists entirely of jump cuts and action driven programming may have conditioned us to be too impatient to actually savor any experience that doesn't reinforce us with immediate and frequent stimulation.

    If they ever manage to develop truly interactive "films" in which the audience directs the "plot" the cinema will finally realize the dreams of marketing. We will pay to sit in Skinner boxes.

     Be seeing you.

Another Non-Sequitur Day

Hunter S. Thompson

Be seeing you

Sloth UnleashedLa Muse Verte

Thursday, August 18, 2011

B.F. Skinner & The Pigeon-Guided Missile

During World War II there was great interest in finding a way to reliably steer a missile to a target. However, the guided missile was still in the wishing and hoping stage as far as the U.S. was concerned. Enter the behaviorist psychologist B.F. Skinner. He hit upon the idea of using trios of trained pigeons as kamikaze pilots by mounting modified Skinner boxes in the nose cones.

 " Skinner approached the National Research Defense Committee with his plan, code-named “Project Pigeon.” Members of the committee were doubtful, but granted Skinner $25,000 to get started."

     "He built a nose cone for a missile fitted with three small electronic screens and three tiny pigeon cockpits. Onto the screens was projected an image of the ground in front of the rocket.

“He would train street pigeons to recognize the pattern of the target, and to peck when they saw this target,” says Kidwell. “And then when all three of them pecked, it was thought you could actually aim the missile in that direction.” As the pigeons pecked, cables harnessed to each one’s head would mechanically steer the missile until it finally reached its mark. Alas, without an escape hatch, the birds would perish along with their target, making it a kamikaze mission."

     The source fails to mention how long it took to train the pigeons to peck upon seeing the proper target. The amount of time required may have been one of the factors influencing the committee's decision not to fund the project. 

     Skinner kept the pigeons, curious to see how long they would retain the training. They still pecked on cue several years later.

    One of them seems to have found a home hosting the C.I.A.'s children's web page.

     Be seeing you.