January 11, 2020 in 2,969 words


Ba Na Hills, Da Nang 550000, Vietnam

Ed. Just a cool picture I saw in an ad one one of these many webspaces.


• • • to set a mood • • •

Ed. I’m doing two audio streams again.

• • • some of the things I read while eating breakfast • • •



How One Photographer Captures the Glory of Birds in Flight

An otherworldly look at a familiar sight.


Ornitography #153.


DARK, SINOUS LINES FLOAT IN a blue sky. It seems straight out of sci-fi or fantasy—a fantastical spacecraft transitioning into its cloaking shield, or a mythical beast in flight. In reality, it is cranes at Gallocanta Lake in Spain, dozens of them, traveling between where they feed in the fields and where they sleep in the water. It is many frames, compressed to a single moment. Catalan photographer Xavi Bou is fascinated with birds and the challenge of making their flight patterns visible. He has combined his passions for nature, art, and technology to create these images which he calls “ornitography,” from the Greek ornitho– (“bird”) and graphe (“drawing”).

The photographer learned to appreciate nature from childhood walks with his grandfather in the town Prat del Llobregat, where Bou grew up. It is located in the Llobregat Delta, one of the most important wetland zones in the region around Barcelona, and a key spot along bird migration routes. “He made me look at how to differentiate them [the birds],” Bou writes, about his grandfather, in an email, “how they were not the same throughout the year.”


Ornitography #97.

An an adult, “One day I wondered what types of trails the birds would leave in the sky if that were possible,” he says. “That is when I imagined those lines that would appear in the sky. I thought it might be interesting to make them visible.” He made his first test images in 2012, and the project has changed his life so much that he stopped his professional work as a postproduction artist and has dedicated himself exclusively to his ornitography work for the last five years.

Creating these images is a slow process. He might spend a couple of days at a site recording video footage. Then it can take a week to 10 days to process the images in low resolution, and then another week to create a high-resolution final image. “To be able to show a period of time in a single image and not do it through a long exposure,” he says, “what I discovered is that I had to take many images per second and merge them into one. I shoot between 30 and 120 frames per second, so I use high-resolution movie cameras and shoot most of the time in slow motion … Then I merge the sequence into a single image.”



Freedom without constraints: how the US squandered its cold war victory

The US believed the American way of life was humankind’s ultimate destiny. But unrestrained greed has led to an era of injustice and division.

“Without the Cold War, what’s the point of being an American?” Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, the novelist John Updike’s late-20th-century everyman, posed that question just as the “long twilight struggle” was winding down. More than quarter of a century later, the plaintive query still awaits a definitive answer.

Indeed, the passage of time has only sown confusion about whether there is a point to being an American. Even as the cold war was ending, Updike’s everyman was not alone in feeling at a loss. By the 1980s, the cold war had become more than a mere situation or circumstance. It was a state of mind.

Most Americans had come to take its existence for granted. Like the polar ice cap or baseball’s status as the national pastime, it had acquired an appearance of permanence. So its passing caught citizens unaware. Those charged with managing the cold war were, if anything, even more surprised. The enterprise to which they had devoted their professional lives had suddenly vanished. Here was a contingency that the sprawling US national security apparatus, itself a product of the anti-communist crusade, had failed to anticipate.

On one level, of course, the surprise could not have been more gratifying. In the epic competition pitting west against east, the god-fearing against the godless and democracy against totalitarianism, “our side” had won. All-out nuclear war had been averted. The cause of freedom, which Americans felt certain they themselves embodied, had prevailed. Victory was decisive, sweeping and unequivocal.

In another sense, however, the passing of the cold war could not have been more disorienting. In 1987, Georgi Arbatov, a senior adviser to the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, had warned: “We are going to do a terrible thing to you – we are going to deprive you of an enemy.”

PREPARE TO SPEND A WHILE; it’s The Long Read.


How the US helped create El Salvador’s bloody gang war

The story of El Salvador’s gang problem is a study in shortsighted thinking – and Donald Trump’s policies threaten to make a bad situation even worse.


Members of the MS-13 gang wait in their cell at Chalatenango prison in El Salvador.

Israel Ticas is racing down the highway, drumming his hands on the wheel of “The Beast”, a tall, boxy police truck that he aims at the small, bustling town of San Luis Talpa, about 25 miles south of El Salvador’s capital, San Salvador.

A decades-long veteran of the security forces, Ticas’s first job was as an artist in the counter-terrorism unit, sketching suspected guerillas during the country’s 1979–1992 civil war. The experience left him equally as distrustful of the rightwing generals he had served as of the guerrilla commanders who would join them among the political elite at war’s end. In most ways, the country has never quite recovered since. In 2015, homicides in El Salvador rivalled the most violent peak of the civil war, and it ranks consistently among the world’s most violent nations. Before long, Ticas spots a body by the roadside. “It’s fresh,” he observes. “With clothes on.” It hasn’t been stripped or dismembered. The victim, he says, was likely shot at that spot during the night.

Ticas calls himself a “lawyer for the dead”. A self-taught forensic criminologist, he locates and digs up the bodies of victims of gang killings, and in so doing, he documents the crimes of the country’s notorious maras, or gangs. On this hot March morning in 2018, his finger is wrapped thick with gauze – a few days earlier, he pricked it on a thorn covered in fluids from decomposing bodies. His belt is adorned with a skull-and-crossbones pattern. As always, he carries a pistol in a handbag at his side.

But we aren’t here for the body by the roadside. Instead, we stop outside a two-storey concrete building where men in blue-and-white camouflage uniforms armed with assault rifles are milling about. Our security detail piles into a Toyota Hilux, and we follow them zig-zagging out of town and into the surrounding sugar cane fields, the convoy kicking up a bright cloud of swirling dust. Our destination is a site used by members of the local MS-13 gang to rape, torture and execute people. The victims include civilians, rivals from the Barrio 18 gang, and their own members who break internal codes of discipline. After a few minutes, the convoy stops at a parched basin beside the fields, a spot where a river runs during the wetter months.

As the river rises and falls in the jungle terrain, Ticas explains, the land swells and crumbles. So the topography has changed since the site was in use, several years ago, and his informant has struggled to remember where all the bodies are buried. Still, Ticas has managed to find 11 of the 21 bodies his informant says are buried here. The attorney general gave Ticas three months to work the location, and today is the deadline. He thinks he can find one more before his time is up and he has brought the informant here to help.

PREPARE TO SPEND A WHILE; it’s The Long Read.


5 Trump Stories The News Totally Forgot About

We’re so inundated with Trump news that we shrug off stories and scandals that would’ve tanked literally any other president. It seems that every day, there’s a new horror demanding our attention, whether it’s children locked in cages or Trump asking a foreign government to blackmail his rivals. This is why we’ve decided to bring you some equally awful stories related to the man and his administration that may have escaped your notice. Like how …

5. Trump Ends Rule Allowing Migrants To Receive Medical Treatment, Starts Deporting Cancer-stricken Kids


Forget all of the abstracts when talking about immigration and answer this one simple question: Would you take a dying child off life support to deport them? It’s hard to imagine even the baldest and most goateed of ICE agents saying yes, but that’s exactly what the Trump administration decided to do. In August, Trump ended a rule that allowed undocumented immigrants to stay in the country if they’re receiving life-saving care for illnesses such as leukemia, HIV, and other ailments that makes one question why God’s being a total dick to them.

Trump canceled the program at the same time that he axed other programs for undocumented immigrants (like providing flu vaccines in detention centers), but there’s one other detail that makes it uniquely cruel. While the administration announced the other program cuts publicly, it ended the deferred action program in secret. Which meant that dying patients only discovered this with their notice of deportation. They didn’t even get time to prepare, just a boot out of the country and right into a possible grave. As Senator Ed Markey put it bluntly, “This is a new low … Donald Trump is literally deporting kids with cancer.”


The Capitalist Way to Make Americans Stop Eating Meat

Carnivores are falling for the magic of a longer menu full of plant-based options.

For the past 50 years, Americans have responded to the case against eating animals mostly by eating more animals.

They have heard again and again about the moral and ecological costs of eating meat—from philosophers like Peter Singer and polemicists like Jonathan Safran Foer; from viral documentary footage of slaughterhouses and tortured poultry; from activist organizations like PETA and scientific reports on the fossil-fuel cost of producing a medallion of beef.

The collective sum of all these books and films and eco–guilt trips has made little difference. The share of Americans who call themselves vegan or vegetarian hasn’t increased in the past 20 years. In the 1970s, the typical American ate about 120 pounds of meat each year. In the 1990s, she ate about 130 pounds annually. Today, she eats more than 140 pounds a year, or about 2.5 pounds of meat every week—a record high, according to government estimates.

But something is changing nonetheless.

Although nine in 10 Americans don’t consider plants an acceptable substitute for meat, they increasingly consider plant-based “meat” products—like burgers from Impossible Foods, and sausages from Beyond Meat—an acceptable complement. The investment firm UBS projects that the plant-based meat market will grow by a factor of 20 this decade, reaching $85 billion in annual sales by 2030. Cases of plant-based proteins shipped to commercial restaurants rose last year by more than 20 percent, while regular meat’s sales grew by only 2 percent.


Feces from a giant kettle of vultures is disrupting CBP communications on the US-Mexico border

RADIO WAVES


Look out below.

A US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) radio tower near the Texas-Mexico borderbhas become home to some 300 vultures, which have coated the structure’s entire surface, both inside and out, as well as the ground below, in “droppings mixed with urine,” according to a request for information the agency issued to vendors this week.

A smoothly-functioning communications network is essential for CBP officers to do their jobs. The agencies under the aegis of the Department of Homeland Security, of which CBP is one, have suffered from radio problems in the past.

The birds in the Texas tower have been roosting there for more than six years, a CBP spokesperson told Quartz, adding, “They will often defecate and vomit from their roost onto buildings below that house employees and equipment. There are anecdotes about birds dropping prey from a height of 300 feet, creating a terrifying and dangerous situation for those concerned.”


Vultures seen roosting in a CBP tower in Kingsville, TX.

As a defense, vultures “regurgitate a reeking and corrosive vomit,” explains a factsheet from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA). This kills bacteria on the birds’ legs, but also eats away at the metal in radio towers, reducing the life of the structure and making it unsafe for the maintenance workers who climb it. Vulture droppings can also carry a range of diseases such as histoplasmosis, salmonella, and encephalitis.

DEGREE OF DIFFICULTY: Large groups of vultures smell “like a thousand rotting corpses,” one homeowner told a reporter.


Video Goodnesses
and not-so-goodnesses

Five years ago, Douglas McMaster opened the restaurant Silo, hoping to change the unsustainable practices of modern food systems. His aim was simple, yet frighteningly ambitious: create an award-winning menu using a zero-waste food system designed from scratch. This is the turbulent, yet ultimately triumphant, story of Silo’s journey. Read more: https://www.theatlantic.com/video/ind…


He won’t roll over and he’ll never beg.

THANKS to CBS and The Late Show with Stephen Colbert for making this program available on YouTube.


Late Show executive producer Tom Purcell once pitched a show idea in which house flippers would renovate homes where notorious murders had taken place. Finally, HGTV has stepped up to make Tom’s show idea a reality.


Delaniacs, rejoice! John Delaney called Sam yesterday to prove he’s the most fit candidate for the job. You can join Team Delaney in Full Frontal’$ Totally Unrigged Primary now!

THANKS to TBS and Full Frontal with Samantha Bee for making this program available on YouTube.



まるさんをお手入れ。次ははなさんの番。I do Maru’s care. Next is Hana’s turn.

Ed. Curiously, I was reading an article where Google was warning Chrome users about the browser extension Honey, stating it believed the extension contain malware. Even more curiously, Google is embedding an ad shilling the Chrome browser extension Honey in the video above. One would think Google wouldn’t permit malware to be installed on on my hardware from their own websites. If this is what don’t be evil was all about, and now that it’s gone… I think I wan’t my old flip-phone back…



FINALLY . . .

Walled City
Anarchic, organic, surreal, this enclave was once among the most densely populated places on Earth.


Kowloon Walled City was built without regulations.

This story is excerpted and adapted from James Crawford’s book, Fallen Glory: The Lives and Deaths of History’s Greatest Buildings.


THE MOST DENSELY POPULATED CITY on Earth had only one postman. His round was confined to an area barely a hundredth of a square mile in size. Yet within that space was a staggering number of addresses: 350 buildings, almost all between 10 and 14 stories high, occupied by 8,500 premises, 10,700 households, and more than 33,000 residents.

The city’s many tall, narrow tower blocks were packed tight against each other—so tight as to make the whole place seem like one massive structure: part architecture, part organism. There was little uniformity of shape, height, or building material. Cast-iron balconies lurched against brick annexes and concrete walls. Wiring and cables covered every surface: running vertically from ground level up to forests of rooftop television aerials, or stretching horizontally like innumerable rolls of dark twine that seemed almost to bind the buildings together. Entering the city meant leaving daylight behind. There were hundreds of alleyways, most just a few feet wide. Some routes cut below buildings, while other tunnels were formed by the accumulation of refuse tossed out of windows and onto wire netting strung between tower blocks. Thousands of metal and plastic water pipes ran along walls and ceilings, most of them leaking and corroded. As protection against the relentless drips that fell in the alleyways, a hat was standard issue for the city’s postman. Many residents chose to use umbrellas.


The postman of Kowloon Walled City in 1989.

There were only two elevators in the entire city. At the foot of some of the high-rises, communal and individual mailboxes were nailed to the walls. But often the only option for the postman was to climb. Even several stories up, the maze of pathways continued: knotted arteries that burrowed into the heart of the city along interconnecting bridges and stairwells.

Sometimes the postman would reach a top floor and climb out onto the roof. Gangways and rusting metal ladders let him move quickly from building to building, before he dropped back down into the darkness. While some alleys were empty and quiet, others overflowed with life. Hundreds of factories produced everything from fish balls to golf balls. Entire corridors were coated with the fine flour dust used for making noodles. Acrid, chemical smells filled the streets that lay alongside metal and plastic manufacturers. Unlicensed doctors and dentists clustered together, electric signs hanging over their premises to advertise their services. Many patients came from outside the city, happy to pay bargain fees in return for asking no questions. Shops and food stalls were strung along “Big Well” Street, “Bright” Street and “Dragon City” Road. For the adventurous, dog and snake meat were specialties of the city.


Ed. More tomorrow? Possibly. Probably. Maybe. Not? Maybe.