Tarnmoor’s First Law of the Internet

Trash Reigns Supreme

Trash Reigns Supreme

Tarnmoor’s First Law of the Internet is very much like Gresham’s Law: Bad money drives out good, except in this case news is driven out by dross. In the end, the Internet tends to resemble that garbage dump the size of Texas floating in the Pacific Ocean. In terms of websites that purport to concentrate on informative news, I see this trash as being of five different types:

  1. Outright clickbait, usually hinting at something surprising or earth-shattering and featuring a picture of an attractive thirty or forty year old model.
  2. Articles about television series on news sites, not surprising considering that news sites frequently own production companies.
  3. References to “viral videos” usually featuring cute animals or spectacular fails.
  4. Links to videos where the video adds nothing to the story and consists of a few seconds buried within a boring talking head sequence.
  5. Articles about dumb things that wingnuts on all sides of the political spectrum say.

Places where I turn expecting to find something I can sink my teeth into, yield instead a kind of digital styrofoam containing no intellectual nourishment. Instead, one finds what I call WABAW (WAste of BAndWidth). Look what I found on CNN’s website today:

  • Odd houses come straight out of ‘Flintstones.’
  • Reason #1 not to pose for a selfie with a rattlesnake.
  • Mother duck guides her ducklings past swerving cars. (Awww!)
  • Water balloon explodes with man inside.
  • See Paula Abdul recreate ‘Opposites Attract’ video.
  • What ‘Back to the Future’ got right about 2015.
  • ‘Sharknado 3’: the tweets, the cameos, the crazy.

If you want to see even a more determined effort to send you down a brainless rathole, go to Weather.Com. My eyes glazed over when I saw “Ever put coins in dry ice?’ and ‘WATCH: He dropped a basketball of a dam and didn’t expect what happened.’ I presume that if you are reading this, you do not go hunting through multiple windows following an attractive woman who promises to show you something that would really make the IRS, TSA, Catholic Church, or your beloved Lhasa Apso furious.


Guess What Retro-Tech Item Cell Phones Have Popularized?

Guess What Retro-Tech Item Cell Phones Have Popularized?

This posting is inspired by an article on BBC’s website entitled “Weird Places Readers Charge Phones.” The BBC asked readers for the weirdest places they charged their cell phones. Here are some of the responses:

In South Korea I came across a phone charger powered by gym equipment! Korea is more than a little obsessed with mobile phones so it didn’t come as a big surprise when I was climbing a mountain and came across a phone charger, powered by cycling.

That actually makes sense. We all need to do more exercise. One viewer from Mold in Wales (hmmm!) wrote:

Some of the best phone reception in the Nepal Himalayas is near to Everest Base Camp. So when approaching here from less well-connected places, phones start to light up with activity. I’ve set up a solar charger on top of Kala Patthar (18,500 ft) to keep my smartphone going. On the other hand, I carry a backup dumbphone—like many locals use—and it will stay charged for a week.

Sometimes, desperate cell phone users will resort to unacceptable measures:

I once sat in the waiting area in Bristol children’s hospital with my little girl. We saw a woman go up to the fish tank and unplug it in order to plug her phone charger in! She was aghast when the receptionist told her to remove it and plug the fish tank back in.

Yup, You Guessed It!

Yup, You Guessed It!

I would think the fish were even more aghast. Finally, let’s see how an entrepreneur approaches the problem:

Perhaps the most entrepreneurial and exploitative battery charging service I have seen was in Lindela Repatriation Centre, Krugersdorp, South Africa.

Whilst waiting for 30 days to be voluntarily deported back to the UK, my 5000+ fellow deportees were given so little information by the staff that they were desperately using mobile phones to contact relatives, friends or Embassy staff.

People with phones rented their use to others whilst staff at the shop charged them for re-charging their phones.

When you have 10 sockets for about 2,000 phones, you can name your price.


Everything and Nothing

Portuguese Novelist and Poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935)

Portuguese Novelist and Poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935)

Come on, ’fess up! When was the last time you ever read any Portuguese literature?

Chances are, you probably never dipped into José Saramago, Eça de Queirós, or—greatest of all—Fernando Pessoa. The author of The Book of Disquiet, an amorphous work that is one of the masterpieces of 20th century literature, wrote under some seventy different names. Below is a sample of his poetry, which he wrote under the name of Álvaro de Campos, entitled “The Tobacco Shop.” Like all of his work, it is simultaneously about everything and nothing.

I’m nothing.
I’ll always be nothing.
I can’t want to be something.
But I have in me all the dreams of the world.

Windows of my room,
The room of one of the world’s millions nobody knows
(And if they knew me, what would they know?),
You open onto the mystery of a street continually crossed by people,
A street inaccessible to any and every thought,
Real, impossibly real, certain, unknowingly certain,
With the mystery of things beneath the stones and beings,
With death making the walls damp and the hair of men white,
With Destiny driving the wagon of everything down the road of nothing.

It is only with the fourth line of the second stanza that Pessoa mentions the tobacco shop, a prosaic place opening onto a street fronting onto the world of “stones and beings.”

Pessoa might seem to have had a weak sense of personhood, but he left behind a rich and multifarious literary reality which cries out to be mined.


Good Ol’ Boys

Sandra Bland

Sandra Bland

In many parts of the United States, there is a class of males usually referred to as Good Ol’ Boys. We have become accustomed to letting these Good Ol’ Boys have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card whenever they step across the line. But what happens when these same erring Good Ol’ Boys are the police, mayors, judges, and district attorneys. The result is injustice, and lately, injustice on a large scale.

The Internet has been used too often to convey outrage. Today, in this post, I want to convey sadness. The strange death of Sandra Bland (pictured above) troubles me. Why should someone so young and so beautiful end her life in a jail cell by hanging herself with a plastic garbage bag. Oh, it could have been someone older and uglier and fatter, and the injustice would have been the same. But there is an added poignancy for someone who should have had a rich, full life.

I don’t know whether Sandra suffered some massive affront to her dignity that caused her to commit suicide—or whether she was “helped” by Good Ol’ Boys wearing badges. The facts have not come out yet. I’m just saying that this should not have happened whatever the circumstances.

If the Good Ol’ Boys turn out in the end to have been evil malefactors, they should suffer the full consequences.

Smile, You’re on Candid Camera!

The “Face” on the Underside of a Manta Ray

The “Face” on the Underside of a Ray

There are so many strange forms of life under the sea, and the rays are one of the strangest. At the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, I ran my fingers across the velvety back of one of them. Then, in one of the large mixed tanks, I saw what looked like a smile on the underside of another one (illustrated above). In the tanks, they tended to glide over the sandy bottom, making me wonder whether they are scavengers.

In all, the Aquarium has only a few hundred different species of sea and shore life, but few of them are anywhere near familiar to me. There are odd staring moray eels, fish that look like floating vegetation, birds with tongues shaped like short straws, and giant daddy-longleg-like spidery crabs. While Martine were there in the morning—before the strollers and their glazed-eyed pushers arrived in force—we had a good chance to see the exhibits are marvel at their strangeness.

If I had another life to live, I would consider being a marine biologist. One of the most underrated American travel books I have ever read is John Steinbeck’s expedition with a marine biologist friend from Monterey to Mexico. It is called The Log from the Sea of Cortez.



Shot Down in the Lorikeet Forest

Was This the Guilty Party?

Was This the Guilty Party?

Today, Martine and I decided to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach. As usual, we were there at opening time, because we knew from long experience that, after lunch, the place would be crowded with strollers bearing demonic toddlers and pushed by brainless zombie parents. (And, sure enough, it was.)

The weather man had predicted rain for today. We typically ignore forecasts of rain, because the news channels are awash in dire predictions of a deluge even when the chance is less than 1%. This time, we were wrong. By early afternoon, it started to shower and, five hours later, it is still going strong.

No matter, we managed to get several hours of fun in before the stroller derby began in earnest. The highlight, as always, was our visit to the Lorikeet Forest, where one is allowed to walk among and even feed some four score of the colorful southeast Asian parrotlike avians. Two of them perched on me while I fed them from the cup of nectar I was holding. Other visitors marveled that they seemed drawn to me.

But not all of them. After the two left, one flew close to my left ear and sprayed the side of my face with his rectal effluvia. This had happened to me once before, at the Santa Barbara Zoo. But that particular bandit discolored one of my favorite baseball caps.

Isn’t that just an object ,lesson? Of what, I am not sure.



Not Enough Panem, Too Many Circenses

Gladiatorial Combat: A Giant Distraction?

Gladiatorial Combat: A Giant Distraction?

The phrase “bread and circuses” (in Latin, panem et circenses) comes from the Roman poet Juvenal’s Tenth Satire: “Already long ago, from when we sold our vote to no man, the People have abdicated our duties; for the People who once upon a time handed out military command, high civil office, legions—everything, now restrains itself and anxiously hopes for just two things: bread and circuses.”

Politics in America has become a costly form of entertainment. Costly because, as a society, we put so much time and money into the process—at the expense of what we should be doing to insure justice and polling access to all Americans, shore up our sagging infrastructure, feed our poor, and begin transitioning to technologies that protect us from the vagaries of climate change.

The 2016 presidential campaign is in full gear, with scores of wannabes who intend on becoming Sarah Palins. It’s a splendid career: Serve half a term in office and make big money giving occasional speeches to people who are outraged about … about … oh, well, you name it! And with very little effort! Donald Trump will spend untold millions, but he will become a hero to the feeble-minded who want to hear what he has to say. Ditto Scott Walker, Rick Santorum, Jeb Bush, and even some of the Democratic candidates.

You might call them political clickbait. They promise much, but in true American political style, deliver little—and certainly nothing that’s to the point.

I urge you not to be entertained by the whole process. Elections are a serious business, not a gladiatorial combat. If we vote in a lot of people who will spend their entire terms posturing and japing, we’re through as a nation.