Category: Personal

Nosferatu Lives

It reads like the script from one of his horror films; a stolen head, burnt black candles and satanic symbols – but this week they became elements of Berlin police department’s latest case.

The head in question belonged to Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, the director of the iconic early-20th-Century Dracula film adaptation ‘Nosferatu – a Symphony of Horror’, taken from his grave near the German capital.

And officers have have already turned their attention to Germany’s darker sects as they search for those who took the well-preserved body part from a grave site often scrawled with pentangles and other symbols of devil worship.

Murnau’s ‘Nosferatu’ was and remains one of the most important milestones in cinema.

Based upon Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel ‘Dracula’, it told the story of Count Orlok of the undead, and its moody scenes and clever camera angles influenced generations of fans and filmakers alike.

But death was at the heart of the movie and death has continued to stir the passions of vampire lovers ever since it was made in 1922.

Indeed, his own death in 1931 aged 41 was enough to elicit some fascination of its own: openly homosexual, he was engaging in oral sex with his 14-year-old Filipino houseboy on the Pacific Coast Highway at Santa Barbara when he lost concentration and slammed into a telegraph pole.

His corpse was embalmed and placed in a metal coffin, and the following year it was shipped to Germany for burial in Stahnsdorf’s south-west cemetery.

And down the years the lovers of the undead – goths, ghouls and living vampires who get their sexual thrills from the drinking of human blood – have made the pilgrimage to the grave of Murnau to pay their respects to a man…

Stahnsdorf cemetery warden Olaf Ihlefeldt found the head missing as he slid the lid of the coffin away while investigating minor damage he had spotted on mausoleum number 22.

‘The body is still in pretty good condition,’ he said.

Murnau’s head was still recognisable and had its hair and teeth, he added, ‘the last time I saw it‘.

RTFA for tidbits and collateral tales of Satanism, vampire cults and other slightly disturbing religious rationales for often-demented, sometimes fanciful behavior.

Good enough for today’s TV series.

I must admit when my parents convinced the head librarian of our neighborhood Carnegie Library that I – 8-years-old – had exhausted the offerings for teens and pre-teens and required an adult library card, I almost blew it when the first book I went to borrow was Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”.

Murnau’s “Nosferatu” has long been my favorite silent film. If you require a soundtrack, try the version by Werner Herzog, “Nosferatu the Vampyre”, starring Klaus Kinski and Isabelle Adjani.

Woo hoo!

Americans tired of explaining things to idjits


Click to enlarge

Many Americans are tired of explaining things to idiots, particularly when the things in question are so painfully obvious, a new poll indicates.

According to the poll, conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Opinion Research Institute, while millions have been vexed for some time by their failure to explain incredibly basic information to dolts, that frustration has now reached a breaking point.

Of the many obvious things that people are sick and tired of trying to get through the skulls of stupid people, the fact that climate change will cause catastrophic habitat destruction and devastating extinctions tops the list, with a majority saying that they will no longer bother trying to explain this to cretins.

Coming in a close second, statistical proof that gun control has reduced gun deaths in countries around the world is something that a significant number of those polled have given up attempting to break down for morons.

Finally, a majority said that trying to make idiots understand why a flag that symbolizes bigotry and hatred has no business flying over a state capitol only makes the person attempting to explain this want to put his or her fist through a wall.

In a result that suggests a dismal future for the practice of explaining things to idiots, an overwhelming number of those polled said that they were considering abandoning such attempts altogether, with a broad majority agreeing with the statement, “This country is exhausting.”

The Borowitz Report nails it, once again. Though I’ve spent most of my adult life fighting to overcome several of the most significant stupidities in American culture I admit that retirement from work a number of years ago – combined with the Web offering avenues for activism that don’t involve getting into my pickup truck and driving to town – opened the door to a life of being a proper hermit.

Now that my wife has achieved early retirement, we get to be hermits together. Which suits both of us. I can holler at the idjits on television. Which I can turn off. I can harangue the nation via my personal blog. Which I can turn off.

We go for walks with Sheila the dog.

How do toddlers use tablets? — a limited survey

Can babies use iPads?

If you’ve ever viewed YouTube videos of infants and toddlers using iPads, then you know the answer is a resounding “Yes.”

But how are they using them?

To answer that question and others, a team of University of Iowa researchers set out to study more than 200 YouTube videos. Their paper is published in the proceedings of the CHI 2015 conference, the most prestigious in the field of human-computer interaction.

In the paper they write that their goal was to “provide a window into how these children are using tablets through an analysis of relevant YouTube videos.”

What they found was information that supports “opportunities for research and starting points for design.”

“By age two, 90 percent of the children in the videos had a moderate ability to use a tablet,” says Juan Pablo Hourcade, associate professor of computer science in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and lead author of the study. “Just over 50 percent of 12-to-17-month-old children in the videos had a moderate ability…”

He says that to his knowledge, other researchers have conducted surveys of the prevalence of tablet use by young children, however, the UI study is the first to study how infants and toddlers are actually using the devices…

Hourcade acknowledged the drawbacks of using unsolicited YouTube videos, such as not knowing the exact ages of the children pictured and that the children pictured were selected by their caregivers and may not be representative of the larger society. However, he says the researchers were able to estimate the ages of the children (two-thirds of the videos included the age) and observe a clear progression of successful performance linked to age that is consistent with developmental milestones

He says he hopes that the study and others that follow will influence the development of apps that encourage interactive education for infants and toddlers. The apps he envisions might be similar to the social and interactive-like children’s programs currently found on public television.

Interesting stuff. I almost always end up supporting any sort of investigation that encourages early education.

My parents taught both my sister and me to read by the time we each were 4 years old. And we had plenty of reading material available for the following age group – and beyond. Speaking subjectively, it was a great advantage throughout school for each of us.

Sister Megan Rice, freed, ready for more anti-nuclear activism

Megan Rice
Click to enlargeNicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
Sister Megan Rice at the Isaiah Wall near the United Nations

For more than a year, Sister Megan Rice, 85, a Roman Catholic nun of the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, had caught occasional glimpses of the glittering World Trade Center from her living quarters: the Metropolitan Detention Center, a federal prison on the Brooklyn waterfront.

So when the Volvo she was riding in one morning last week crested the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge and the skyscraper came into full view, it made a strong impression.

“Oh, my gosh,” Sister Rice exclaimed. Drinking in the scenery and the panorama of New York Harbor, she added, “We’re well on our way.”

It was her fifth day of freedom after two years behind bars for a crime for which she is boldly unapologetic. In 2012, she joined two other peace activists in splattering blood and antiwar slogans on a nuclear plant in Tennessee that holds enough highly enriched uranium to make thousands of nuclear warheads. All three were convicted and sent to prison. But on May 8, an appellate court ruled that the government had overreached in charging them with sabotage, and ordered them set free…

Now, dressed in a sweatsuit that fellow inmates had given her, the nun was traveling to the American headquarters of her order in Rosemont, Pa., a suburb of Philadelphia. The agenda was to confer with her superiors about her future — one in which she plans to continue her antinuclear activism. One threat was that the federal government might challenge the recent ruling and try to have her thrown back in prison.

“It would be an honor,” Sister Rice said during the ride. “Good Lord, what would be better than to die in prison for the antinuclear cause?”…

Sister Rice, thin but seemingly healthy, was in high spirits and voluble as she talked about her religious order, her atomic radicalization, her life in prison and what may come next…

The pacifists belong to the Plowshares movement, a loose, mostly Christian group that seeks the global elimination of nuclear arms.

For now, at least, Sister Rice is a free woman.

Read the whole article. A tale of the kind of Catholic foot-soldier I occasionally shared a cell with back in the day.

I’m certain one or another of my kin who still are religious are Catholics like this. Or Congregationalists. Or Buddhists. Or non-religious like me, philosophical materialists, spinning the science-based reality dialectic. Before I left the Great Northeastern dynamo I could always find a couple of kindred spirits at annual get-togethers of my extended family. Philosophy didn’t matter as much as a quest for justice as strong as the quest for fire before we evolved into more sophisticated tool-makers.

It’s nice to see someone with liberal sensibilities and opposed to the insanity of nuclear weapons risk it all out of conscience. We have a president somewhere south of Megan Rice’s prison home who says he shares her ideals. Too bad he doesn’t match her courage.

Om Malik on changing old behaviors


Taking a picture of Om taking a picture

When I was a kid, my grandma told me the story of a hard headed man who decided that he didn’t like that his dog had a curved tale. He took the tail and encased it in a tube and left it like that for over a decade, confident that the tail would come out straight. A decade later, when he removed the tube, the tail was still crooked. It is a weird thing to remember especially since I am contemplating my own behavior modifications.

Or perhaps it is a realization that one of the hardest things to do in life is changing and modifying deeply ingrained behaviors. The longer you live, the harder it becomes to make the requisite adjustments. Sure, mortality, or more appropriately the fear of death, forced me to give up smoking (after chain smoking for nearly 25 years) and most of other bad behaviors — I am finding that there are some behaviors that are proving to be pretty hard to modify…

Blogging for me in the early aughts meant writing, short bursts, multiple times a day. That meant being hot wired into the news cycles and constantly monitoring what was happening in the industry. Unknowingly, my mind was being programmed to react and write to the flow of the news. As I have said before, this is a narcotic. My awareness of this problem is because I continue to struggle — that is react to the “news cycle” and often find myself writing blog posts that are well, news-focused blog posts that were the hallmark of the post-investment phase of Gigaom. I am acutely aware of this, because I am trying to turn back the clock to an older time when my blogging was decoupled from the happenings on the front page (or in my case business page) of the daily newspapers.

RTFA. Om sets the stage for a brief – and sharply focused – essay on changing our communication habits, skills. If we were seated in a small group – no matter where – taking the time to reflect upon his analysis and questions raised, I think the discussion would be as varied, interesting and fruitful as the number of individuals involved.

Om Malik is someone I listen to most often through his writing, occasionally via an appearance on TV or a video podcast. He provokes thought. Dangerous habit, I know.

Bacon, bacon, bacon Is back!


Fatburger’s Hypocrite Burger

Andy Wiederhorn wants to sell bacon to vegetarians.

That’s the idea, anyway, behind the Hypocrite Burger — a veggie patty topped by two strips of bacon. Wiederhorn, chief executive officer of Beverly Hills, California-based Fatburger Corp., is pushing sales of the sandwich in his 200 fast-food restaurants to take advantage of wholesale prices that dropped about two-thirds from a year ago.

“We want to add bacon to everything we sell,” he said. “People like it.”

Do they ever. At the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump’s shrimp-obsessed buddy Bubba, eateries are offering bacon milkshakes, bacon sauerkraut, bacon kale salad, bacon martinis and bacon peanut brittle. Last year, 68 percent of U.S. restaurants had bacon on the menu, up from 62 percent in 2005, according to market researcher Datassential. And that was when prices were a lot higher than they are today.

Bacon is having its moment. It’s always been popular, but now, driven by reduced cost, innovative concoctions, the protein-rich Paleo Diet and a worldly younger generation willing to try anything once, twice if they like it, that popularity has exploded. Last year, a piglet-killing virus shrank U.S. hog herds, sending futures prices to all-time highs, and farmers scrambled to capture those profits. Record U.S. pork production will surpass beef output for the first time as overseas demand slows, creating today’s glut and sending both retail and wholesale prices to deliciously low levels.

Even though retail prices are down, consumers paid more than seven times the wholesale price for bacon last month, a record spread. Milwaukee-based supermarket chain Roundy’s Inc. expects prices to continue to tumble throughout 2015 as costs such as feed decline…

Part of the reason for the retail-wholesale mismatch is some higher-priced pork bellies from last year’s slaughter were frozen, and those inventories take time to work through…By now, cheaper bellies have worked their way to slicers, yet the higher store prices persist.

“It’s highway robbery,” said Dennis Smith, senior account executive at Archer Financial Services in Chicago. “Talk about a huge markup. They don’t lower prices because bacon demand is just that good…”

As beef costs reach all-time highs, restaurants are adding bacon to more dishes because it raises the flavor profile of an otherwise cheaper piece of meat….

Yes, we’ve reached the point where you should switch on your brain. Economics should be a determinant in your cuisine unless you have an excess of disposable income and little concern for nutrition. After all, bacon offers two of America’s most popular food groups: fat and salt.

In our household, we eat beef about a dozen times a year, tops – almost exclusively during our extended outdoors grilling season. That’s it. Even living in a beef-producing state, even though I have easy access to essentially organic critters without the overhead of certification, etc., pork and chicken are our primary sources of air-breathing protein.

Apple and others ask Obama to reject backdoors for cops and other snoops


Yes, this is what it says on my wife’s iPhone, same on my iPad

In a letter…delivered to President Barack Obama on Tuesday, Apple is among a group of signatories requesting the White House reject incoming government proposals that would modify current policies to allow law enforcement access to encrypted user data.

As reported by The Washington Post, which gained access to the letter on Monday, Apple joins a cadre of more than 140 tech companies, security experts and interested civil groups concerned with upcoming legislation that could force access to consumer data, even if it is encrypted.

“Strong encryption is the cornerstone of the modern information economy’s security,” the letter reads. Further, signatories unanimously recommend that government agencies should “fully support and not undermine efforts to create encryption standards.”

According to The Post, three signatories were on a five-member presidential review team formed to investigate U.S. technology policy in 2013, just after former NSA contractor Edward Snowden sparked public outrage by leaking information regarding secret government surveillance programs. Among the revelations aired by Snowden was the existence of mass data collection initiatives targeting everything from phone calls to social networks and other high-traffic consumer products…

With iOS 8, Apple built an encryption system so secure that it is technically incapable of decrypting a user’s device even with the appropriate documentation. The lockout method was not well received by officials wanting access to user data, a procedure allowed through [so-called] proper warrants.

RTFA if you need to dull your brain with predictable rationales from security-snoops. The history of this sort of political paranoia tends to end with Big Brother having his patriarchal way with your thought and speech. Coppers are accustomed, now, to the government handing them them anything they need or need to know – or think they need to know – on a bulletproof platter.

They’re incensed that Apple dares to advertise the fact that they can’t decrypt your iPad or iPhone, either.