State of the Union: Whither Afghanistan?

Tonight the President will address the nation in his second state of the nation. It’s unclear if he’ll say anything about Afghanistan, he’d be wise not to. Equally, given the President is prone to tackling sacred cows, maybe he should.

President Trump sent more troops and in his words America would stay until the “war is won”.  While not as notorious as Vietnam, Afghanistan is Americas longest war, all Presidents from Roosevelt are complicit. America had been involved  in/with Afghanistan from 1946 until the late 1970’s, as the Americans left, the Soviets arrived.

We are now negotiating with the Taliban, essentially the same deal to end the American involvement in Afghanistan, that Donald Rumsfeld turned down in 2001. Since then there has been 17-years of bloody war, costing America more than a trillion dollars, and taken the lives of more than 4,000 Americans.

Afghanistan is a country that is at the center of the world, almost exactly 10,000 miles from either coast of America. Long before the War on Terror, long before the Russians invaded Afghanistan, the Americans were there. Buoyed by their success in WWII and in an effort to counter the Soviet Union threats of expansion, in 1946 American Engineers, their wives and families started to arrive in Helmand province in unprecedented numbers, they lived in a campus that became known as “Little America“.

M-K Completes Dam Projects in AfghanistanThey worked for the worlds biggest construction company at the time, Morrison Knutson. The King of Afghanistan had bought them in to replicate what had been done in Nevada, roads, dams, canals and even a new model city. The Kings plan had been to harness the power of the giant Helmand River and turn Afghanistan into a modern society like the west. Thats when everything started to go wrong.

In an era that is long forgotten and projects that were ultimately doomed to fail, it was the first, and possibly the best example of “too big to fail”. It did, we are still paying that price today, even before the Russians invaded, America had sunk $80-million into Afghanistan.

It’s the forever war, will President Trump actually succeed, no.

REFERENCE MATERIAL

The New York Times “The Daily” covered Afghanistan yesterday(Feb 4th), disappointingly they never included anything about the whole “Little America” project. It is still one of the best summaries of what happened since the Russians invaded.

BBC NEWS has a great infographic style documentary on Helmands Golden Age from 2014 by Monica Whitlock. It is a good read and contains many pictures from Morrison Knutson engineer Glenn Fosters films. It also includes many clips of his color films, sadly they are geo-locked and not available in the US. You can though find much of the same material on Youtube. As an accompanying piece, Monica Whitlock also recorded an episode of the BBC World Service “The Documentary Podcast“, also from 2014. In an episode called “Damming Afghanistan: Lost Stories from Helmand” you can download and hear it here.

NPR has a 2012 interview with author Rajiv Chandrasekaran about his then new book, Little America – The War Within the War for Afghanistan. Entitled “A Cautionary Tale About Transforming Afghanistan”, by Greg Myre, it is online here and can be downloaded here. It includes an amazing slideshow.

The US Agency for International Development, bureaus for Program and Policy Coordination, Bureau for the Near East, have a great detail report on Afghanistan, it can be read here, in its original 1983 form.

15-Seconds of fame from Facebooks 15-years.

Marketplace recently tweeted asking how social media had changed or impacted your life. Of course I had a response.

They emailed today to ask if I’d record a voicemail, and used a segment of it in todays show for a segment called: “thefacebook.com” went live 15-years ago today.

In addition to what went on the show, what I also said was:

I had a facebook ID for longest time, probably from 2008-9, and following all the privacy violations and everything else, I closed my facebook account and deleted my data 2-years ago.

I do have an Instagram account but use it very sparingly; I’ve had a livejournal account since 2003, it was mostly to track my triathlon training, racing and travelling, I still have it but don’t use it these days, I’m getting old.

I’ve mostly reverted to doing everything I used to do, before facebook. There are websites that do everything that facebook does, they are different websites rather than everything being all on thefacebook, which gives Facebook way too much information, in my view.

Elements – Earth, Wind and Fire on Soul!

Since finishing the book, and this blog post about Maurice White, I’ve been digging through some of my other archives. I found an amazing live performance from the groundbreaking WNET show Soul! broadcast on January 10th, 1973.

The accompanying video, the shows are available via pbs.org in some regions, and via WNET Thirteen, if you can access them. A low res version of which can be seen below via Youtube, is perhaps remarkable for a number of reasons. It documents a group in the midst of change.

The original Earth, Wind and Fire had recorded two albums for Warner Brothers, and then fell apart, as many groups do, with arguments over this, that, money etc. in 1972. This performance featured the core members of what had become EWF 2.0. Cleaves would move on, Ronnie Laws had billing on the recording, but had already quit, others would be added over time.

Featured in this recording were:

Maurice White – Kalimba, Vocals and Percussion
Jessica Cleaves – Vocals
Philip Bailey – Vocals and Congas
Johnny Graham – Guitar
Verdine White – Vocals and Bass
Larry Dunn – Organ and Electric Piano
Ralph Johnson – Drums
Andrew Woolfolk – Sax and Flute

This is the group, plus Andrew McKay, that would go on later in 1973 to record their 4th album, Head to the Sky.

Their dress style hadn’t started evolving yet, here they were dressed, as you’d expect for early 1970’s, their performance style had though. As the last number finished, the group disappeared from the stage, leaving just Ralph Johnson.

Musically, the group show what would become their trademark for the next 10-years, across albums and countless hit singles. The performance opens with one of the best  videos of Maurice White playing the Kalimba; his fingers and thumbs rapidly producing what would become a trademark, and unique sound.

Philip Bailey shows his amazing vocal range on, as far as I’m aware, their only recording of , James Taylors Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight. There is, as there alway would be, the omni-present, bare chested, Verdine White and his amazing bass playing.

The group is already tight and the tracks here, some from the 3rd album Last Days and Time including the opening song, Power.

Overall, for me, this recording has all the elements that made Earth, Wind & Fire. Enjoy.

Earth, Wind and Fire; life and guidance

foto_20190111_100904Over the year-end I read the Maurice White, Herb Powell penned autobiography, “My Life With Earth, Wind & Fire”. It was both an interesting read, and revelatory.

While my early teens were heavily influenced by David Bowie, my late teens and in some respects the rest of my life was heavily influenced by the sound, and especially the mystical guidance that seemed to be coming from the group, led by it’s founder and bandleader, Maurice White.

White’s spiritual approach gave endorsement to my own uncomfortableness with my Christian upbringing and doubt that a single “God” existed. I never met White, but in the way you idolize someone, I thought I knew him through his music. I didn’t at all.

The book itself covers all the key phases of his life, and especially the struggles and troubles he wanted people to know about. His youth in Memphis was shocking. Yes, I guessed it wouldn’t be good, as a black kid in Memphis in the 40’s and early 50’s but it was worse than a white kid from England born in the 50’s could imagine. In many ways, I assume the events described, meant that Maurice spent much of his life searching for meaning, and examining ways to find context for what had happened to him.

As well as his long path through music until he hit success with Earth, Wind & Fire, the books chronicles Whites, obvious to me, struggles with commitment and identity. We all need stories in our lives to make sense of them, to understand  why you are, who you are, and the book covers Whites journey to understand his stories. Notwithstanding all that Whites’ story really had some great commentary and lessons on surviving in the music business.

Rocks Back Pages has a revealing and frank interview with Maurice, by Cliff White, from I assume London during the 1979 tour, which I attended. RBP also has a list of articles which contains some useful background.

Surprisingly, NAMM, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), doesn’t seem to have an interview with Maurice, but it does have interviews with Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, and Larry Dunn, all of which are really interesting and add great context.

ewf tatooI came to Earth, Wind & Fire in 1974, via Ramsey Lewis Sun Goddess album in 1974 and then their Open Our Eyes album, and shortly afterwards, That’s The Way of the World.

It wasn’t until a couple of years later that I saw them live, but in the “long, hot” UK Summer of ’76, I stopped one afternoon in Dunstable to get a drink. We’d been out at the disused quarry on the A5, practising motocross. I was riding my Honda XL125.

Nextdoor to the corner store/newsagents I’d stopped at, was a tattoo parlour. Back in the 70’s tattoos were not the fashion items they are today, my dad had a traditional, simple knife and heart tattoo on his left arm, but few people I knew did. I walked in, hand drew the logo that I’d seen on EWF albums, and asked for a tattoo. Not only had the tattoo artist not seen the shape/sign before, I had no idea what it was.

These days of course, with the pervasive internet, you’d just google and look up tattoos on pinterest and see what you can find. Of course these days I know it’s the astrological sign for Jupiter.

Like many, my interest in EWF faded in the Mid 80’s as the group fragmented, and the focus drifted. As I work to digitize my entire vinyl collection though, I’ve once again found their tight music, soaring vocals, and inspiring lyrics a great launching point for many parts of my own story, which started on the 23rd night of September. Kalimba.

“Socialism” vs. “capitalism”: what left and right get wrong about the debate

This is a great read, and completely on the “money”.

I grew up in “social” aka council housing or, as they call in America, the “projects”. I’ve worked in Moscow, East Berlin, Romania and China; I’ve been to all the countries in the Middle East with the exception of Libya; Israel twice, none of them have socialism but I’d rather not live there. The UK even with added “free” Healthcare, a Labor government, at it’s most extreme, the UK never had socialism.

Any discussion of Healthcare or public “welfare” in the USA descends into an argument about socialism within 90-seconds. It almost carries a worse stigma than Nazi Germany.

I can only think it comes from an era, when people were more easily brainwashed by propaganda, unlike now when propaganda comes from social media in the form of bias/prejudice sponsored intelligence attacks.

I assume, since i don’t know, that there a heavy sell to support anti-communism from the 20’s through McCarthy, and through the Soviet era to the destruction of the Berlin wall. You can see the same imagery in any of the ridiculous tea party supporting websites.

My favorite is this Regan poster. I’m not sure what we won, but having been in Russia both before, during and after the 1991 Soviet coup d’état , they’ve made huge changes, huge gains,and Russia doesn’t have the same scale hunger, desolation it had when it was the center of the Soviet Union, it now has arguably as many or more billionaires than America does.

We, with our self prescribed image of rugged individualism, innovation, and capitalist world leadership, on the other hand just have even greater wealth disparity, a completely fscked up Healthcare system, and a collapsing democracy manipulated by the very side that espoused Reagan.

The false dichotomy article linked below encapsulates so much of what we need here, now. I speak as someone who can afford not to work, who is in the 5% but knows America can and must do better.

https://www.vox.com/the-big-idea/2018/8/16/17698602/socialism-capitalism-false-dichotomy-kevin-williamson-column-republican-ocasio-cortez

Missing the point of Healthcare costs

We managed to get Health Insurance sorted out for my wife and daughter, without falling into the trap of me getting covered by an ACA policy, which would put me in jeopardy of violating the “public charge” agreement I accepted when applying for my green card. I’m self-insuring for another year aka uninsurance.

Today I took my daughter to the dentist, she needed two baby teeth pulled to make way for her adult teeth. The insurance didn’t verify when they put it in. So I paid by card. In a subsequent phone call we went through the process of how to claim the money back. The process involves mailing in an invoice, the insurer authorising it, contacting the dentist and having them re-submit for insurance payments, and then finally refunding us our payments.

Of course, I won’t pay for any of this back and forward. Insurance does. Insurance will pay the broker and admin who finally were able to spend a full hour helping us get the forms submitted without putting me in legal jeopardy.

The paediatric dentist will absorb the cost of trying to get the bill paid through insurance, then after discounting their charges for “cash”, taking a hit for payment by card, and then there is all the additional admin that the dentist and the insurer will have to put in. None of that is free, it’s all rolled into the cost of insurance. Repeat that thousands of times per day over a population of 300+ million…

Before this episode is finished, it will have cost more for the admin than the dental treatment. That’s madness. That’s just one small reason why we pay so much for medical insurance, and it’s invisible.

An Apple a day keeps the Doctor Employed.

apple drCNBC has an interesting article about the number, and quality of Doctors they employ.  I’ve no idea what’s going on an Apple, for a number of reasons, I’ve never bought a single product of theirs.

However, given their deep pockets and ability to play a strategically long-game, I for one would be surprised if this isn’t significantly more than just about the watch and apps that can diagnose conditions based on data in collects.

Here are my thoughts, in the form tweets to @charlesarthur original tweet and link to his daily Startup link list overflow.

 

Look & See – Rural America

I’ve written a number of harsh posts about those living in rural America, mostly based off the perception that is pushed by the Republican party, that is, rural Americans don’t understand, and resent urban Americans. That rural Americans are the god-fearing, backbone of America and urban and city dwellers are welfare dependents, and worse still, socialists. Certainly, the Republican party continue to push this agenda today, dividing sub-urban and rural communities from the cities.

As shown here, rural Americans claiming benefits has sky rocketed between ’96 and 2015; increasingly, the programs getting cut, adversely hit rural America harder, as rural Americans are smaller in total number; medical coverage may not “be a right” according to the Republican party, it should be a “choice”, try maintaining a community without easy access to modern healthcare; schools are also a right, without them, not only are local taxes higher, more subsidy is needed to get kids to schools outside the city. School Choice won’t save rural schools without a massive rethink.

However, rural Americans, and farmers especially, deserve another perspective. They’ve largely been screwed by the “agricultural industrial machine”. Sure, many farmers have sold out and reaped substantial profits, more though are barely getting by. There is a lot to be said about a community completely upended over the last 30-years.

Laura Dunn, Two Birds Film (Austin TX) has produced a beautifully filmed, subtle, but brilliantly edited, and panoramic, poignant portrait of the changing landscapes and shifting values of rural America in the era of industrial agriculture, as seen through the eye of American novelist, poet, and activist, Wendell Berry.

Berry represents, if not the best known defender of rural, natural America, then certainly the most eloquent. His contributions to Lauras’ other major work, The Unforseen, were the first I’d heard of him. Certainly, this profile certainly made me think again. You can watch the trailer on youtube(below) or the complete film on Netflix.

Recycling Futures

A year ago a bale of waste paper was worth $100 a ton, today you have to pay $15 per ton to get it taken away.

That’s not free to you, the cost is hidden in your charges.

recyclingI’m in the midst of switching waste/trash haulers for our HOA. The HOA took a vote last year to switch at the end of the contract. As it turns out the city service for the identical cart service is more expensive than our HOA hauler.

This is a big deal, especially in the era of everything by Amazon and e-commerce.

That’s missing the point though. The city service is aimed at reducing landfill needs, and quite rightly so. They charge by size of trash and composting bins, and whatever size recycling is thrown in for free.

Our current HOA service is mostly just aimed at taking stuff away. We were able to require the existing hauler into doing year-around composting, although a number of people have claimed to have seen the hauler just dump the composting in with the trash. I talked to the City Public Works Director about their service, only to find out that it ends in August next year, and right about the time we move HOA Residents to the city service, they’ll be issuing a RFP for a new 5-year contract.

It’s likely then we are going to be caught between a rock and a hard place. If we stick with the existing hauler, we’ll likely get charged more for a less than optimal service. If we switch, we are likely to be in a bigger pool, which could make recycling even more expensive when the contract is renewed.

At least the communities I’ve lived in, in America, have been lazy recyclers. Back in the mid-80’s, recycling/reuse increasing came into people’s consciousness, it was all pretty specific, especially around glass, and can recycling. Many States instituted deposit schemes, and encouraged collection and recycling. For most though, the deposit schemes never lasted, people were too lazy after a few years, and just reverted to trashing them.

Single-stream_pile_IMG_0995ed[1]
Single stream recycling waiting go to to the “Materials Recovery Facility” (MRF).
Single stream recycling was seen as a simple way to encourage Americans to recycle, it’s been hugely successful, and a disaster. Many Americans don’t even try to understand the recycling process, or even wonder how the materials they dump in their single stream recycling cart make it back into raw materials to be reused. If it’s paper or plastic, they just put it in the single stream cart/bin. Some people jam stuff in the Single stream cart, well, because it wont fit in the trash. It’s then someone elses problem.

In a move, mostly unrelated to the Presidents tariff war with China, the Chinese have so much low grade recycling, that they are no longer just accepting low grade recycling material. This is a big deal, especially in the era of everything by Amazon and e-commerce.

What’s the problem?

amazon-prime-514x383[1]
Doesn’t go in the recycling cart; Needs special service; Must have paper label removed.
Take for example that Amazon 100% recyclable plastic shipping envelopes, just like the one in the picture. These don’t go in single stream recycling. They have to be handled by speciality bag recyclers.

However, even if everyone does what we do and keep a large sack in the garage for plastic bags and take it to their specialist local collection point, in our case Eco-cycle in Boulder, it’s still not that simple.

Your amazon shipping bag has a paper address label stuck on it. Unless that label is completely removed, the bag is just another example of junk recycling. The only way to turn the bag back into recyclable plastic pellets, is to soak the bag, and then use a chemical mixture to dissolve the paper. At scale, ten of thousands per month, doesn’t make this practical. Picking the labels off is difficult and time consuming, better is just to take a pair of scissors and cut the label off and put it in the trash before putting the bag asides to take to specialist recycling. There are loads of other examples

We recently bought a new TV. Aside from a massive paperboard box, it came with a large amount of styrofoam packing material. Styrofoam needs specialist recycling, just because you can jam ito into your trash cart, don’t. It will get crushed and numerous stages and the styrofoam particles eventually end up in landfill and last 500+ years.

Don’t put it in recycling either. Just because you can jam it in, doesn’t mean it won’t end up in landfill, it will, only at twice the haulage cost. If you have a service that penalizes you for “bad materials” in recycling, you deserve to get ticketed. If your styrofoam makes it to the single stream recycling location, it will either be sorted by machine, or often by hand into the trash. That’s not free to you, the cost is hidden in your charges.

That’s not free to you, the cost is hidden in your charges.

The list goes on and on. Tires and inner tubes; shredded paper; food packing(if it has any kind of wax or plastic liner), broken drinking glasses or lightbulbs; almost anything with plastic packing tape, even cardboard.. It all has to be either stripped, or should go in the trash.

All this has to be sorted, cleaned, and then sent to the actual plant where it is converted. The sorting is expensive and  the less “pure” it is, the less it’s worth. Even bottle tops and can lids, carton tops should be trashed, they are not recyclable. In fact, pretty much anything under 3-inches can’t be recycled as it’s too small to pass through the machines.

The Market for recycling

A year ago a bale of waste paper was worth $100 a ton, today you have to pay $15 per ton to get it taken away.

Even the market for that stalwart of recycling, paper, has tanked. Formally cities were paid by the ton for the single stream recycling materials, after sorting. Now, they are paying to have them taken away.  While you can still find baled waste paper contracts for $100 or more per ton, thats waste paper at the mill, not ready to be shipped from the MRF. A year ago a bale of waste paper was worth $100 a ton, today you have to pay $15 per ton to get it taken away.

Interestingly, amid the recycling crisis, the same thing that has happened in other industries is also happening to US paper mills, they are getting bought by Chinese companies. It’s not clear what this will mean for recycling, but it will increasingly mean the Chinese are able to control the price.

What Can we do?

Be a conscientious recycler. If in doubt, throw it in the trash. Compost where you can, recycle diligently. Remember everything you put in recycling that ends up in trash costs twice as much to haul and still ends up in landfills. Even where landfills do NOT pollute the ground, or ground water, they do smell. Many things that end up in landfill will last hundreds of years.

Buying land for landfills; preparing them; managing them is an expensive business. Most people wouldn’t want to live near a landfill for just the noise of trucks coming and going, much less the smell. Yet we can’t live without landfills, the further away from our homes they are, the more it costs to haul trash there. The alternative would be incinerators, and while the science is good, the fear of air pollution is real. At least for now, landfill is the only alternative to recycling.

One of the best videos I’ve seen on single stream recycling comes from our own Boulder County Recycling Center. It should be compulsory viewing for everyone. While watching, remember, our taxes are paying for the locations, machines, energy, and people who make it “simple” for you to do recycling, via single stream recycling. Even after all this, we are now having to pay for many of the resource bundles to be taken away for re-use.

The second video covers hard to recycle and problem materials with answer son what to do with them.

Please feel free to leave comments and questions.

Your infrequent reminder, Facebook is evil

They figured out how do you tweak people’s vanities and their passions and their susceptibilities and their desires in order to keep them on the site.

Source: The Central Question Behind Facebook: ‘What Does Mark Zuckerberg Believe In?’ : NPR

If you have not heard it, the above NPR Fresh Air interview by Dave Davies with Evan Osnos, a New Yorker Staff writer is well worth the listen.

Since that interview, we’ve had two more announcements of significance from Facebook.

October 11th, the evil empire announced that they’d disabled some 66 accounts or what Facebook described as:

dozens of accounts and profiles belonging to Russian database provider SocialDataHub

SocialDataHub provides analytical services to the Russian government. Facebook said SocialDataHub were “scraping” peoples information. Who knows how much information, how they used it, or who they sold it too. Facebook don’t. It looks live another 50-million accounts at least. [Check here if your account was compromised.]

The October 8th, Facebook announced their “Portal”, basically a tablet and web cam that allows you to make video calls to other Portal-users, and follows you around the room. Facebook of course says Privacy is

‘Very, Very, Very Important’

But let’s be honest, are you really willing to stay on facebook? Who in their right mind would allow facebook to live video them and not screw up the privacy, and even if they don’t, they’ll be analysing the Sh*t out of everything in every frame to identify things to sell to advertisers about you.

Can facebook do this securely and respecting your privacy? You bet your life not.

#DELETEFACEBOOK Start doing it now. #DELETFACEBOOK, and the women you will wow. (With apologies to Cole Porter).

https://www.facebook.com/help/delete_account

My other facebook posts.