Archive for the ‘The Passing Scene’ Category

Coming up: a blood moon and a lunar eclipse

May 25, 2021

Wonders never crease.  A blood moon, a “supermoon” and a lunar eclipse will happen together on May 26.

Blood Moon – Red Moon – Total Lunar Eclipse by Apama Kher for timeanddate.com.

A “supermoon” and a lunar eclipse are both happening on May 26 – Here’s Why by Brian Resnik for Vox.

Super Lunar Event: Supermoon! Red Blood Lunar Eclipse All Happening at Once – Here’s What It Means by Shannon Schmoll for SciTech Daily.

There are degrees of infinity

May 22, 2021

I suspect that infinity is something that the human mind cannot grasp.

I am certain that infinity is something that my particular mind cannot grasp.

Jambalaya

May 9, 2021

The bizarre behavior of rotating bodies

May 3, 2021

I found this fascinating.  Maybe you will, too.  Hat tip to kottke.org.

Illusion, reality and perception

April 24, 2021

It’s time for a little Serbian accordian music

April 17, 2021

Biden my time – some links and comments

April 16, 2021

Here are some links to articles that I found of interest. Maybe you will, too.

Canción de Trump by Sam Kriss for Idiot Joy Showland.

Sam Kriss is a British blogger, new to me, who wrote a hilarious but insightful takedown of the Trump administration, with a sideswipe at Joe Biden and the Black Lives Matter protests.

Trench Warfare: notes on the 2020 election by Mike Davis for New Left Review.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

A detailed analysis of the vote shows only a little change from 2016.  The election hinged on a narrow margin of victory in a few key states – less than 1 percent in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona and only 2.6 percent in Michigan.

Donald Trump, strangely enough, did best where COVID-19 was worst and unemployment was highest.  He probably has a rock solid 40 percent of the electorate behind him, and he is still a kingmaker in the Republican Party.

Barring some unlikely great achievement by President Joe Biden that will make voters’ lives noticeably better, the coming elections are likely to be a continuation of the back and forth struggle of the past 20 or 30 years. 

My Predictions for Biden’s Probably Truncated Presidency by Ted Rall.

Joe Biden faces extraordinary problems, and he is not an extraordinary statesman.  Ted Rall argues that he probably won’t complete his first term, for both health and political reasons.

Contrary to What Biden Said, U.S. Warfare in Afghanistan Is Set to Continue by Norman Solomon for Common Dreams.

The U.S. government announced a withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, but said assistance to Afghan national defense and security forces will continue.  This likely means continued bombing and missile attacks launched from outside Afghanistan, plus secret Special Operations forces, Pentagon contract forces and CIA operatives.

Taiwan—the Thucydides Trapper Who Cried Woof by ‘Gary Brecher’ for Radio War Nerd.

Threatening war with China over Taiwan is a bad idea.

Ukraine Redux—War, Russophobia and Pipelineistan by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Threatening war with Russia over Ukraine is a bad idea.

Big Corporations Now Deploying Woke Ideology the Way the Intelligence Agencies Do: As a Disguise by Glenn Greenwald.

Talk of social justice, feminism and racial diversity gives secret intelligence agencies and big corporations cover for a multitude of sins.

1619 Project lead writer Nikole Hannah-Jones paid $25,000 for virtual lecture by Trévon Austin for the World Socialist Web Site. 

Patrisse Khan-Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, also has done very well for herself.

When publicity trumps everything else

April 12, 2021
Major auto companies’ production in 2020 vs. total value of their stock

One of the ancient Greek historians—I forget whether it was Thucydides or somebody else—wrote that the Athenians in the early days of their city chose leaders they thought were the wisest and most virtuous, but as they grew prosperous, powerful and complacent, they chose leaders that were the most entertaining.

My friend Bill Elwell sent me a link to a post about how, in American life today, your ability to get the public’s attention matters more than what you actually accomplish.  Click on Red Bull, Elon Musk and Matt Gaetz to read it.

I needed a little bluegrass to cheer myself up

April 11, 2021

How the universe marches in step

April 10, 2021

What do swaying bridges, flashing fireflies, clapping audiences, the far side of the Moon, and beating hearts have in common? Their behavior all has something to do with synchronization. In this video, Veritasium explains why and how spontaneous synchronization appears all the time in the physical world.

Source: The Secret of Synchronization on kottke.org.

Excavator operator’s heroism goes unrewarded

April 9, 2021

Excavator operator helping free ship blocking Suez Canal

Business Insider India reported on how excavator operator Abdullah Abdul-Gawad risked his life and worked 21-hour days to free the Ever Given, the skyscraper-sized container ship stuck in the Suez Canal.

Then Abdul-Gawad was not only virtually ignored, but at the time of writing had not received his overtime pay..

Describing the scene that faced him at work [on March 23], Abdul-Gawad told Insider it was “really quite something.” “It was awe-inspiring,” he said.

The 28-year-old, who has been operating excavators since university, said he and his colleagues worked 21-hour days, barely sleeping – and still had not received their overtime pay.

Freeing the Ever Given was an international effort, with winches, dredgers, tugboats, and excavators all brought in.

But Abdul-Gawad was the man who was literally at the rock face of the problem. Once he got to the base of the ship, there was no choice but to start digging.

In his estimation, the Ever Given’s bow was lodged about six meters, or 20 feet, higher than where the ship ought to have been floating.  Its stern was also sitting on the opposite bank, and the sideways ship was blocking all traffic.

To approach the base of the vessel, he built a makeshift “bridge” from rubble he dug up, allowing him to get closer.

The image of the little excavator gave the world unparalleled meme fodder, but for Abdul-Gawad the situation was far less funny – it was dangerous.  Under the looming sides of the ship, he feared destabilizing the ship and having it topple onto him.

“The thing is, I was terrified that the ship might list too far to one side or the other,” he said. “Because if it fell onto its side on me, then it’s goodbye me, and goodbye excavator.

“If you see the size of the ship and you see the size of the excavator, it is absolutely terrifying.”

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Church organ music on a Commodore 64

April 3, 2021

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Linus Akesson web page.

The sixtyforgan by Linus Akesson.

Simulating Church Organ Music on a Commodore 64 by Jason Kottke for kottke.org.

Four cellists on just one cello

March 27, 2021

Click on Weiner Celloensemble 5 +1 to reach their web site.

The passing scene: March 26, 2021

March 25, 2021

Here are links to some articles I found interesting, and maybe you will, too.

The US Intelligence Community, Flouting Laws, Is Increasingly Involving Itself in Domestic Politics by Glenn Greenwald.

“A letter from House Intelligence Committee members demands answers from the DNI about illegal breaches of the wall guarding against CIA and NSA domestic activity.”

When the CIA was chartered in 1947, it was prohibited from spying on Americans, in part because President Truman was afraid it would get involved in politics.  In the 1960s, the CIA was caught spying on U.S. political activists.  Now it is happening again in the name of a “war on domestic terrorism.”

A Biden Appointee’s Troubling Views on the First Amendment by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

“Columbia law professor Timothy Wu wonders if the First Amendment is ‘obsolete’ and believes in ‘returning this country to the kind of media environment that prevailed in the 1950s’.”

There is a contradiction between the view of Timothy Wu, an appointee to the National Economic Council, that anti-trust enforcement should be a priority in the Biden administration, and his view that Facebook, Google and other social media companies have a responsibility to protect the pubic from false statements.  These companies need monopoly power in order to carry out that mission.

If you give a private corporation or government agency the power and mandate to monitor communication to separate truth from lies, what you’re doing is giving that corporation or that agency a monopoly on lying.

Biden Team Prepares $3 Trillion in New Spending for the Economy by Jim Tankersley for the New York Times.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas.)

“A pair of proposals would invest in infrastructure, education, workforce development and fighting climate change, with the aim of making the economy more productive.”

The consensus in the Biden administration appears to be that President Obama was too cautious in fighting the 2008 recession, and that they will not repeat that mistake.

Good!  But can he overcome Republican opposition in the Senate?  What about monopoly power, financial fraud, international competitiveness and other problems that can’t be solved simply by flooding the economy with money?  Still, it’s early days and a good start.

Does Biden Really Want to End the Forever Wars? by Jack Goldsmith and Samuel Moyn for The New York Times.  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas) 

“If he does, he must work with Congress and go far beyond narrowing old permission slips for conflict.”

Betteridge’s Law of Headlines: If a headline asks a question, the answer is “no.”

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The emerging campaign against Substack

March 11, 2021

In Defense of Substack by Matt Taibbi on TK News.  “UCLA Professor Sarah T. Roberts mourns the good old days of gatekeeping and credential worship.”

Criticizing Public FIgures, Including Influential Journalists, Is Not Harassment or Abuse by Glenn Greenwald.  “As social media empowers uncredentialed people to be heard, society’s most powerful actors seek to cast themselves as victims and delegitimize all critiques.”

Journalists Start Demanding Substack Censor Its Writers: to Bar Critiques of Journalists by Glenn Greenwald.  “This new political battle does not break down along left v. right lines.  This is an information war waged by corporate media to silence any competition or dissent.”

Good Samaritan bunny helps a kitten

March 10, 2021

I don’t know whether the rabbit and the kitten were friends, or whether the rabbit is an altruist.

The Democracy! Suite with Wynton Marsalis

February 13, 2021

Saint Augustine and original sin

February 5, 2021

In his Confessions, St. Augustine sought the truth about himself and his motives, and the truth about the nature of God and His creation. 

What’s interesting to me is that he didn’t see his investigation of subjective truth, about himself, and of objective truth, about the nature of time and free will, as two separate things.  He saw them as different sides of the same thing.

What’s also interesting is that he didn’t see religious revelation as opposed to philosophical reason.  He saw them as mutually reinforcing.

I recently read The Confessions of St. Augustine for a couple of reasons.  One is that I just got finished reading Eric Hoffer’s The True Believer, which said fanatic mass movements such as fascism and Bolshevism were imitation religions, and I thought it worthwhile to read an account of actual religious belief.

Another is that there is a move afoot to abolish the teaching of the ancient classics on the grounds that they are irrelevant, and I thought it worthwhile to read an ancient classic to see whether it is relevant or not.

What follows is not a summary of the Confessions, but my personal reaction to it.

The main thing I got out of it was an understanding of how fundamental the doctrine of Original Sin is to Christianity.  This is the idea that sin is something baked into your nature that you can’t get rid of, no matter what you do.

Augustine condemned himself because, as a little baby, he didn’t care about anything except his selfish hunger for his mother’s milk. 

He condemned himself for what most people today would regard a normal desire for career success and for the approval of his peers.

He even criticized himself for being excessive in mourning the death of good friends.  It meant that he may have loved them more than he loved God.

He criticized himself for taking pleasure in the beauties of nature, or of art, unless it was combined with gratitude to God.

One act that particularly tore at him happened when he was a teenage boy.  He was part of a gang that invaded a walled orchard and stole pears.  He thought it was particularly evil because he didn’t need the pears.  He committed the theft because it was forbidden and because of peer pressure, not for the sake of pleasure or benefit to himself.

I have to say there is something to his last point.  I do think there is such a thing as evil, which is hatred of the good.  I think is different from mere badness, which is the inability to resist temptation.  But if this minor act of juvenile delinquency were the worst thing I myself had ever done, I would be well pleased with myself.

I do not see Augustine’s attitude toward sin as a distortion of Christianity.  Just the opposite!

Jesus taught that the great commandment is to love God with your whole heart, soul and mind.  He also taught a second commandment, to love your fellow human beings as yourself.

If you take these commandments literally, they are almost impossible to fulfill, even by people who are extremely spiritual and compassionate.  Who can say that the only thing they care about is God and his love?  Who can say they give other people’s needs the same priority as their own?  By this standard, who can escape sin?

All religions teach the need for atonement for wrongdoing and the need to make restitution to those you have wronged.  But none of them make repentance for sin the center of their religion in the way that Christianity does.

Only a Christian would say sin is inescapable.  Only a Christian would say that there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner who repents than ninety and nine just persons who need no repentance.

One thing wrong with many people today, especially secular liberals, is that they no longer believe in God, except in a vague, metaphorical sense, but they still have a sense of sin. 

Not being Christians, they don’t know how to get rid of it, and this can shape their beliefs in strange ways.

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Some really awful (that is, good) puns

February 2, 2021

Riddles of the Sphinx II: Sustained Release Riddlin’ by Scott Siskind for Astral Codex Ten

Surfing sea lions, having fun

January 30, 2021

Trumpism and the revolt of rural America

December 22, 2020

My city neighborhood is full of Black Lives Matter signs.  But if I were to drive 20 or 30 miles beyond the city, I would soon see I was in Trump country.

A blogger named Crispin Sartwell sees Trumpism as a rural identity politics movement, like black nationalism and gay pride.

In these decades I’ve seen rural America sag severely: small manufacturers disappearing; farms foreclosed or folded into much bigger operations; small-town downtowns shuttered; kids living the song and leaving as soon as they can; schools and churches becoming abandoned buildings; waves of meth and opiates.

For decades, there seemed to be an effortless but bizarre assumption, even in the sociological research into rural pathologies, that everyone wanted to live in a city and eventually would, more or less, as the economy somehow transformed from making concrete things to providing abstract services.

Rural Americans were living in a way that was over, and the question was how to assimilate them into the globalized information economy of the 21st century, or whatever Al Gore was on about.

But what are y’all going to do, abandon 93 percent of the country and eat information?  Country people are often derided for ignorance, but they often deride you for living in a realm of delusion.

There are some problems with Barack-Obama-style technocracy I’d like to point out.  Rural people have been approached, at best, pretty much the way Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Bill Clinton approached black people: How can we address your pathologies? Maybe if y’all went to college…

Trumpism appears out here as a rural pride movement.  Such a movement strikes me as justified, necessary in some form: a culture, a way or ways of life, and the connection of people with the physical landscape of America have been endangered, devalued, sneered at, and devastated.

Country and small-town America has similar reasons as black America or trans America to unite and resist. I’m surprised that it didn’t happen before.

But I wish it hadn’t been Trump. I wish the sense of rural pride that has arisen wasn’t tainted with white pride, that there could be a rural nationalism that wasn’t connected in any way to white nationalism, that people out here weren’t falling for lies.

Rural America needed an avatar, but that New York developer with his rattletrap demagoguery and his relentless narcissism was both an unlikely and extremely unfortunate selection.  But personae as compelling and mercurial and bold as Trump’s, and as willing to smash the stultifying rhetorical conventions of American technocracy, are rare.

One wonders whether the sense of rural identity could’ve arisen at all without a big dose of these dark sides, and one bad thing about the ironic embodiment of rural identity in Trump is that it tends to confirm everything that Harvard profs and Atlantic staff writers think about us: that we’re ignorant, easily manipulated, evil, and stupid.

On the other hand, everyone is sort of paying attention now; everyone is sort of realizing that country people have them surrounded, that driving in any direction from any big city in America gets you to Trump country really quick.

They’re talking again about fixing rural people, or beaming more diabolically effective propaganda into our homes to relieve us of our ignorance, or educating children out of their parents’ values, all of which is just going to piss people off and exacerbate the divide.

But what I dream of seeing is a rural politics and a representation of rural people in the corridors of power that proceeds by some sort of expansion rather than various forms of exclusion, that demands recognition and concrete steps to help rural communities but does not configure around racial identities.

Some progressives complain that they can’t enact their agenda because of the over-representation of Trump voters in the Electoral College and the Senate.  This is baked into the Constitution and virtually impossible to change anytime soon.

With the depopulation of rural areas and the concentration of wealth in certain big cities, this disparity can only grown.  So maybe progressives should try instead to seriously address the problems of rural America, which in many ways are like the problems of urban America.

LINK

Trumpism as a Rural Identity Movement by Crispin Sartwell for Splice Today. (Hat tip to Gene Zitver)

‘A libertarian walks into a bear’

December 13, 2020

How a New Hampshire libertarian utopia was foiled by bears by Sean Illing for Vox.  “Seriously, this happened.  You should read about it.”  (Hat tip to Steve from Texas)

The vertical forests of Milan

December 9, 2020

The Beauty of the Future by Ian Welsh

Vertical Forest | Stefano Boeri Architetti

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The passing scene: Links 12/6/2020

December 6, 2020

Make them cry: Tear-gasms now a matter for American boasting by Thomas Frank for Le Monde diplomatique.

After the Deep State Sabotaged His Presidential Bid, Bernie Sanders Mocks Those Who Believe It Exists by Glenn Greenwald on Substack.

The Lex Luthor-Jean Luc Picard-Jeff Bezos look

December 5, 2020

I’m far from the first person to have noticed the physical resemblance between Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Star Trek’s Jean-Luc Picard and Superman’s nemesis Lex Luthor.

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