Bracing For The Weirdest Summit Ever

According to news reports and a tweet from President Trump, there will be a summit meeting in the next two months between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.  The agreement to set up a meeting was brokered by the South Korean government, and the place and time of the summit is currently being determined.  In the meantime, North Korea has agreed that it will not engage in any more missile testing until after the summit occurs.

Whenever and wherever it happens — if it happens at all — the meeting promises to be the weirdest, most closely watched, most unpredictable summit in history.

donald-trump-kim-jong-un-ap-mt-171101_16x9_992Viewed solely from the standpoint of normal diplomacy, this meeting will be highly unusual.  North Korea and the United States have no diplomatic relations of any kind, and no American President has ever met a North Korean leader.  In fact, the United States and North Korea technically remain in a state of war, because the Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.   Even President Nixon’s famous trip to China, which reopened relations between America and China, was built upon a prior period of thawing relations and more diplomatic prep work than would occur before this summit.

Add to that the fact that President Trump and Kim Jong-Un have been trading venomous barbs about each other and engaging in lots of saber-rattling talk until now, and are two of the most unpredictable leaders in the world besides, and you have to wonder what the talks between the two of them will be like.  The diplomats and underlings who will be present, from both sides, will no doubt be desperately hoping that Kim Jong-Un and President Trump follow whatever scripts their respective sides have prepared — all the while knowing that history teaches that they probably won’t.  And the media, which carefully analyzed a handshake between President Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin when they first met, will have a field day examining and breathlessly reporting on every wink, nod, and offhand comment.

North Korea has long been a problem that has been ignored by world leaders, hoping it would just go away — but the provocative, destabilizing conduct of North Korea has gotten more and more dangerous as it has worked to develop nuclear weapons and tested long-range missiles.  Something needs to be done to get North Korea off the path of confrontation and into more normalized relations with the United States and the rest of the world.  Will The Weirdest Summit Ever be able to achieve that?  The world will be watching the weirdness, and holding its breath.



Sweden is generally viewed as the most cashless country on the planet — so cashless, in fact, that authorities are getting a little worried about it.


In that Scandinavian land to the north, fully 36 percent of the people never pay for anything with cash — in Sweden, the currency is called the kronor — or use it only once or twice a year.  In 2017, only 25 percent of Swedes pay with cash at least once a week, down from 63 percent in 2013.  The amount of cash in circulation, generally, has fallen precipitously.  Some restaurants and shops don’t accept cash under any circumstances and post “no cash” signs in their windows, and even some bank branches don’t carry cash.  (Bank branches without cash?  What do tellers do?)

So, what’s the concern?  It centers on the elderly, who are accustomed to paying with cash and who might not be comfortable with paying with plastic or their cell phones — or even have access to those payment methods.  The decline in cash acceptance and cash use generally is being examined by Swedish government and the Swedish central bank to determine whether steps should be taken.

Will America eventually reach a similar point?  I hope not.  I like the idea of having a little cash in my pocket, in case the technology breaks down.  Sometimes it’s just easier to pay with cash, too.  And if you are an advocate for personal privacy, cash is a nice option because of its anonymity and untraceability compared to, say, a credit card swipe.  And there are some things that are always done with cash, and presumably always will be:  how would people looking for a handout or bus fare get along in a cashless society?

Crustacean Placation Nation

The Swiss are worried about lobsters.

live-maine-lobster-640-2017-BOGOThey are concerned that lobsters are sentient and can feel pain.  So, if you want to eat a lobster in Switzerland, you can’t drop it, live, into a pot of boiling water, which is the preferred cooking method in Maine and other lobster-loving states.  Instead, according to this article in USA Today, you need to either electrocute the lobster, or lull it into an insensate state by dipping it in salt water — and then stabbing it in the brain.  I’m not sure, frankly, why those methods are viewed as more humane than the classic drop into a pot of boiling water approach, but we’ll just have to take the word of the Swiss — who don’t eat many lobsters in any event — that the lobsters would prefer the electric chair or a knife to the brain.

Switzerland’s constitution apparently has an “animal dignity” provision, and Switzerland is a leader in the animal rights movement.  Swiss laws enacted in furtherance of that constitutional protection say that dogs can’t be punished for barking and that anyone who flushes an unwanted goldfish down the toilet violates the law.

The logical extension of this movement is to prevent humans from eating any animals, or for that matter domesticating them, breeding them, and preventing them from roaming free and impairing their liberty.  And if humans can’t eat other animals, the “animal dignity” provision presumably would prevent one animal species from gobbling up another animal species, too.  Why should humans be restrained, when other animals get off scot free?  Bears shouldn’t be able to eat fish, for example, and hawks and eagles can’t snatch up eat mice or voles, and wolves and coyotes should be barred from eating chickens, rabbits, or your neighbor’s annoying little yapper dog.

This seems like a pretty confusing approach to the food chain.  Me, I think I’ll still enjoy freshly boiled lobster.

The Santa Claus Killer

North of border, a grisly story of mass murder is unfolding.  In Toronto, police and shaken residents are dealing with an apparent serial killer who roamed in their midst, an apparently pleasant gardener, landscaper, and flower arranger by day and a violent, allegedly homicidal sadist by night.

15267796_10154189330693528_3900810531768579684_n-e1516319633635The accused, Bruce McArthur, has been charged with the murders of five men.  Police are investigating properties where McArthur evidently buried the dismembered remains of his victims in the planters, lawns, and gardens he tended for unsuspecting clients — a story line that is similar to the plot of Stephen King’s short story The Lawnmower Man.  Police believe that McArthur roamed the gay district in Toronto, looking for submissive men who would help him act out violent sexual fantasies — fantasies that apparently sometimes ended in grisly death.  There is growing concern, too, that the investigation will uncover many more victims.

And by the way, McArthur also once served as the Santa Claus at a Toronto-area mall.  I wonder if the parents who learn of that creepy fact will ever put their kids on the lap of a mall Santa again?

As seems to so often be the case, his neighbors and his clients describe McArthur as a jovial, helpful person who liked to bake and design flower arrangements.  They didn’t suspect his apparent double life or dark side.  It really makes you wonder how many murderous people are out there in the world, acting out their disturbed impulses — and also makes you feel lucky that you haven’t encountered them at the wrong time on a darkened street.


Robots On The Air

The U.S. may be ahead of the rest of the world, generally, when it comes to innovation and invention, but Japan always seems to be a little bit ahead of America when it comes to the speed of acceptance and application of newfangled technology.

when-paul-met-erica-2So it should come as no surprise that the Wall Street Journal has reported that some Japanese TV network will soon employ a robot as a news anchor.  People are making a big deal out of it, viewing it as another sign of robots encroaching on previously human jobs — even though this development has been predicted for years.

The robot, named Erica, has been created to resemble a long-haired woman and looks like a Japanese anime character converted to corporeal form.  She/it — I guess we’re going to have to get instruction on the politically correct way to refer to a gender-specific robot, eh? — will be equipped with a form of artificial intelligence that will allow her/it to read the news, although the new stories she/it reads will have to be selected by humans.  Erica apparently will be the first “android anchor” in the world.

Hey, wait a second!  I just realized . . . does this mean that the people who currently read the news on American TV stations aren’t robots?  Who would have guessed?

Legions Of The Fake Followers

I don’t post on Twitter, and “follow” only Richard’s Twitter feed and perhaps one or two more.  Twitter is always asking me to follow more people and offering up suggestions about who I might find interesting, but I always delete the suggestions.  I don’t have time to “follow” the tweeted musings of dozens of people, and figure I’d spend more time deleting notices of their tweets than actually reading them.

So the statistics that purport to show that tens or hundreds of thousands of people follow the Twitter feed of random celebrities or unknown people whose shtick is simply to react to other social media posts, for example, or that Facebook posts have received thousands of “likes,” astonish me.  I shake my head and wonder:  How can so many people find time in their days to look at the detritus of social media?

wasted-resources-ecommerce-fake-socialThe answer is:  maybe they can’t, and actually don’t.  And maybe the impressive statistics that supposedly show that they do are filled with fake followers, and fake likes, from fake people.

The New York Times ran an interesting article over the weekend called “The Follower Factory” about how entrepreneurs, governments, and criminals have created entire legions of fakery.  Some companies have created thousands of fake, automated accounts and sell them to celebrities and businesses that crave followers and retweets to appear more popular on-line.  Facebook recently disclosed that 60 million fake accounts have populated its site, distributing likes and affecting “trend lines” and influencing advertising content.  Twitter and other social media platforms also are affected by fake accounts.  And when part of the power of social media platforms comes from their claims to have millions of people participating in their platforms, how aggressive and effective are the social media sites themselves going to be in policing the fakery?

The Times story quotes politicians who suggest that perhaps the answer to this is to come up with some kind of government regulatory scheme.  To be sure, the government should become involved if the fake accounts cross the line into identity theft.  But short of that, why should the government intervene if some pathetic former pro athlete wants to buy fake followers to puff up his social media profile?  And if the gullible are going to agree with a tweet because the tweeter has lots of fake followers, rather than because of the substance of the opinion expressed, or advertisers are going to accept fake statistics rather than insist on data that can be verified as reflecting the actions of real people, it seems like that is their own problem.  The government has bigger, more important, more concrete things to worry about.

We’d all be better off if people stopped paying attention to followers, and trend lines, and likes, and started to actually think things through themselves.

Lost City Beneath The Sea


Once, Baiae was a resort city on the Italian coast for the wealthy patricians of Rome.  Then, volcanic activity caused the city to vanish beneath the waves, as the coastline moved inland.

Divers have now located the town, and discovered that much of the artwork — including statues, tile designs, and mosaics — has been preserved beneath the water.  Pretty cool!  It would be a great place to go for a dive — if my ear drums had not been blown out by prior, ill-fated scuba activity.

Who knows?  Maybe there is something to that Atlantis myth.