Archive for the ‘The Passing Scene’ Category

The fine art of telling a joke

August 5, 2017

The only things I know about how to tell a joke is to pause before I state the punch line, and to emphasize the words in the punch line that are the point of the joke.   But there’s a lot more to it, as this analysis of a Louis CK joke shows.

Steven Pinker on moral fiction

July 9, 2017

Double click to enlarge.

Source: New York Times.

In praise of dullness

July 8, 2017

Some 35 years ago, there was an International Dull Men’s Club whose chairman was J.D. Stewart, a statistical analyst for Eastman Kodak Co. here in Rochester, New York.

That was in 1982, a year of peak dullness and boring prosperity for both Rochester and Kodak.   Since then Kodak has gone bankrupt, which has made life around here more “interesting” in the sense of the ancient Chinese curse.

The club was formed largely as a joke, but with an underlying idea of honoring people who enjoy mundane things and who do mundane but necessary work.

Stewart would do things like publishing a list of the 10 dullest Americans (including Don Rickles, Gerald Ford, Lawrence Welk, Walter Mondale, Fred Rogers and Garfield the cat) and proposing seminars on topics such as “dressing to break even” and “non-assertiveness sensitivity training”.

The video above shows how the Dull Men’s Club concept has been revived in Great Britain.  The club blog is devoted to safe excitement, an outstandingly dull concept.

I do have to say that the British devotion to dullness is incomplete.   The new Dull Men’s Club is devoted to unusual hobbies, some of which seem actually interesting.

There is a woman whose hobby is to follow brown road signs, wherever they might take her.  That could lead to actual adventures, which is contrary to the spirit of dullness.

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Declaration of Independence is still revolutionary

July 7, 2017

National Public Radio has a long-standing custom of broadcasting the Declaration of Independence every Fourth of July.

This year NPR sent out the Declaration of Independence on Twitter, and was accused of sending out radical propaganda.   They thought the Declaration referred to President Trump, not King George III.

It goes to show that the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution are like the Bible. More people say they believe in them than actually reading them.

I can remember newspapers years ago doing man-in-the-street interviews about excerpts from the Declaration or the Bill of Rights, and showing how many average Americans regarded their country’s founding ideals as dangerous and radical.

Actually, this country’s founding ideals are dangerous and radical, but in a good way.

LINK

Some Trump supporters thought NPR tweeted ‘propaganda’ | It was the Declaration of Independence by Amy B. Wang for The Washington Post.

Northern guild of master craftsmen at work.

May 27, 2017

It is always a pleasure to watch people who are masters of what they do.

The following video was produced by Northmen: the Guild of Northern Master Craftsmen in Latvia, which is dedicated to traditional hand craftsmanship.

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The heroism of Chelsea Manning

May 19, 2017

Chelsea Manning was recently released from Fort Leavenworth military prison after serving seven years of a 35-year sentence for revealing classified information on U.S. war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere.

Glenn Greenwald wrote a fine tribute to her in The Intercept.

In sum, though Manning was largely scorned and rejected in most mainstream Washington circles, she did everything one wants a whistleblower to do: tried to ensure that the public learns of concealed corruption and criminality, with the intent of fostering debate and empowering the citizenry with knowledge that should never have been concealed from them.

Chelsea Manning

And she did it all, knowing that she was risking prison to do so, but followed the dictates of her conscience rather than her self-interest.

But as courageous as that original whistle-blowing was, Manning’s heroism has only multiplied since then, become more multifaceted and consequential. As a result, she has inspired countless people around the world.

At this point, one could almost say that her 2010 leaking to WikiLeaks has faded into the background when assessing her true impact as a human being.

Her bravery and sense of conviction wasn’t a one-time outburst: It was the sustained basis for her last seven years of imprisonment that she somehow filled with purpose, dignity, and inspiration.

The overarching fact of Manning’s imprisonment was its enduring harshness. In 2010, during the first months of her detention in a U.S. Marine brig in Quantico, Virginia, I began hearing reports from her handful of approved visitors about the vindictive and abusive conditions of her confinement: prolonged solitary confinement, being kept in her cell alone for virtually the entire day, gratuitous, ubiquitous surveillance, and worse.

When I called the brig to investigate these claims, I was startled when a brig official confirmed to me, in the most blasé tones, their accuracy.

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Flowers that bloom in the spring

May 13, 2017

These time-lapse photos were taken by Jamie Scott over a period of three years.  The background music is an original composition by Jim Perkins.   I found this video on the Colossal and kottke.org web sites.

The friendly giants of the Copenhagen woods

April 29, 2017

Teddy Friendship

A Danish sculptor named Thomas Dambo made six sculptures of giants out of recycled wood—600 old pallets, a wooden shed, a fence and whatever else he could scavenge and hid them in the woods around his home town of Copenhagen.

The sculptures were made with the help of local volunteers, and each sculpture is named for one of the volunteers.  I found the pictures of the sculptures on the Bored Panda website.

Little Tilde

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Liquidity in the USA

April 19, 2017

Randall Munroe made this graphic on his XKCD site showing the relative amounts of liquids consumed by Americans.  Note that the circles in the top graphic are the tiny circles in the upper left corner of the bottom graphic.

I’m not trying to make any particular political point with this graphic.  I just thought it was interesting.  As a former reporter for Gannett newspapers, I’m a great believer in presenting quantitative information in graphic form

He had two kidneys, so he gave away one

April 12, 2017

Dylan Matthews, a writer for Vox news, donated a kidney to someone he didn’t even know.  He’s unusual, but not unique.  He knows at least two other people who’ve done the same thing.

He said he was inspired by his Christian upbringing and the teaching of Jesus, that if you have two coats, you should give one to someone who has done.   He had two kidneys, so he decided to give one to someone who had none.

People who suffer renal failure have only a short time to live, and that involves a painful treatment called kidney dialysis.   A kidney transplant can extend their lives for 10 years or more.

He in fact helped save four people, not just one.   The person who received his kidney had a relative who was willing to donate his kidney, but was not a good match.   So the relative agreed that, if someone else donated a kidney, to donate their kidney to someone else.

The second recipient also had a relative who was willing to donate in an exchange, and so did the third.   So Matthews in all added 40 or more years to the lives of strangers.   That is, they were strangers at the time he made his decision.  Now they have a strong bond.

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The fruits of war in Syria

April 6, 2017

Source: Concern (2016)

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Russian-Americans polled on Trump and Putin

April 1, 2017

An exhibition of foot juggling

April 1, 2017

[Update 4/8/2017} Try clicking on this to see the video that was taken down.   It’s something to see.

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Donald Trump’s real Russian connections

March 18, 2017

If you were looking for links between Donald Trump and Russia, you’d be more likely to find them by investigating Trump’s sleazy business dealings than his 2016 election campaign.

His connections with racketeers in the construction business in New York City and in casino gambling in Atlantic City, N.J., were well-known before the election, so it wouldn’t be surprising that he would have dealings with Russian racketeers and oligarchs as well.

I don’t claim—and none of the writers of the linked articles below claim—that there is proof that Donald Trump broke any specific law.   The significance of his associations and business deals are as evidence by which the public can judge his character.  Of course we voters had plenty of evidence about his character before the 2016 election.

I think it’s possible that Trump’s views about Russia prior to the election were influenced by his Russian cronies.   I favor an impartial investigation into whether Trump had any improper ties with Russia.

But I also think this investigation would be pretty much a footnote to what is going on now.  We don’t have to speculate about what Trump’s policy toward Russia will be.  We see it in action.  Trump caved in to the anti-Russia war hawks.  Regardless of what Trump’s motives may or may not be, this is a bad thing, not a good thing.

LINKS

The Curious World of Donald Trump’s Private Russian Connections by James S. Henry for The American Interest.

Did Russian Oligarch Rybolovlev Bailout Trump in 2008? an interview of James S. Henry for the Real News Network.   (Hat tip to O)

The Florida mansion that Donald Trump sold to a Russian billionaire now torn down by Glen Garvin for McClatchy newspapers.

Donald Trump’s Worst Deal by Adam Davidson for The New Yorker.

How Did an Alleged Russian Mobster End Up on Trump’s Red Carpet? by David Corn and Hannah Levintova for Mother Jones.

Siberian tigers hunt and capture drone

March 11, 2017

Click on boing boing for details.

Super-rich get ready for collapse of civilization

January 25, 2017

Some American hedge fund managers and Silicon Valley billionaires are preparing refuges so they have places to flee in the event of a revolution or economic collapse.

Evan Osnos, writing in the New Yorker, said they call this “apocalypse insurance.”

Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn and a prominent investor, recalls telling a friend that he was thinking of visiting New Zealand. “Oh, are you going to get apocalypse insurance?” the friend asked. “I’m, like, Huh?” Hoffman told me.

New Zealand, he discovered, is a favored refuge in the event of a cataclysm. Hoffman said, “Saying you’re ‘buying a house in New Zealand’ is kind of a wink, wink, say no more.  Once you’ve done the Masonic handshake, they’ll be, like, ‘Oh, you know, I have a broker who sells old ICBM silos, and they’re nuclear-hardened, and they kind of look like they would be interesting to live in.’ ”

I asked Hoffman to estimate what share of fellow Silicon Valley billionaires have acquired some level of “apocalypse insurance,” in the form of a hideaway in the U.S. or abroad.  “I would guess fifty-plus percent,” he said, “but that’s parallel with the decision to buy a vacation home.  Human motivation is complex, and I think people can say, ‘I now have a safety blanket for this thing that scares me.’ ”

The fears vary, but many worry that, as artificial intelligence takes away a growing share of jobs, there will be a backlash against Silicon Valley, America’s second-highest concentration of wealth. (Southwestern Connecticut is first.)

“I’ve heard this theme from a bunch of people,” Hoffman said. “Is the country going to turn against the wealthy?  Is it going to turn against technological innovation?  Is it going to turn into civil disorder?”

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The secret of Big Ben

January 21, 2017

Hat tip to Naked Capitalism.

Russia as the jihadists’ “far enemy”

January 5, 2017

isis-610417-putin

When Al Qaeda jihadist terrorists attacked the U.S. World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001, it was part Osama bin Laden regarded the USA as the “far enemy” who propped up all the “near enemies” in the Arab world.

But for many of the jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq, the “far enemy” is Vladimir Putin’s Russia, not the USA.   A large number are Chechens, a Muslim nationality living mostly within the Russian Federalion, or Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kazakhs or others living under regimes in Central Asia that are propped up by Russia.

One of Putin’s first actions when he came to power was to ruthlessly crush the independence movement in Chechnia.   The justification was a series of terrorist attacks that were very likely a false flag attack by the Russian FSB.

Since then many Chechen fighters have been driven out of Russia, and are now fighting the Russian-backed Assad government of Syria, along with Uzbeks and other nationalities from the former Soviet republics.

Some analysts think that the export of jihadists is a conscious Russian strategy.  The best outcome, from the Russian point of view, is that they die fighting in Syria.   But even if they survive, they have made themselves known to Russian intelligence services.

Saudi Arabia does the same thing with its jihadist rebels—suppresses them at home and encourages them to go wage war in other countries.

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The CIA and FBI in the 2016 election

December 15, 2016

During the election campaign, FBI statements about Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information hurt her and helped Donald Trump.

CIA statements about alleged Russian hacking of Clinton campaign e-mails hurt Trump and helped Clinton.  As it turns out, the FBI counter-intelligence service is not convinced that it was the Russians who hacked the Clinton campaign.

cia-logoAnd, in fact, Craig Murray, a former British diplomat and human rights activist close to Julian Assange, claims to have personal knowledge that the Clinton campaign leaks came from a disgruntled Democratic campaign staffer.

President Obama wants the “intelligence community” to produce a report on whether Russian intelligence agencies have interfered in U.S. elections going back to 2008.  And he wants the report done before Donald Trump is sworn in on Jan. 20, which seems like an impossible deadline to produce anything more than informed—or uniformed—opinion.

Meanwhile Democrats who are trying to change the Electoral College vote want the electors to be briefed by the CIA on alleged Russian inference.

I have no evidence that the disagreements between the FBI and CIA are any more than an honest difference of opinion.   Even if that is so, I don’t like the idea of presidential candidates being vetted by the CIA.

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Can Trump make U.S. industry great again?

December 1, 2016

Donald Trump in his campaign promised to reverse the decline of American manufacturing.

Can he do it?  I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised, but I don’t think so.

President-elect Trump’s proposed economic policies are the same as what most Republicans and many Democrats have been advocating for 30 years or more—lower taxes, less regulation, fewer public services.

None of these things has stopped the increase in U.S. trade deficits or the increase in economic insecurity of American workers.

Trump did speak against the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, promised to renegotiate other trade agreements and threatened to impose punishing tariffs on China and Mexico in retaliation for their unfair trade policies.

I myself am in favor of rejecting the TPP and renegotiating trade treaties.  This would be a step forward.  But it would take more than this to rebuild the hollowed-out U.S. manufacturing economy.

China, Japan, South Korea and most nations with flourishing industrial economies use trade policy as a means of strengthening their economies.

Their leaders, like Alexander Hamilton in the early days of the United States, seek to build up their nations’ “infant industries” under those industries are strong enough to stand on their own feet.

When foreign companies seek to sell these nations their products, their governments demand that the foreign companies not only set up factories in their countries, but that they employ native workers and transfer their industrial know-how to the host countries.  The USA does nothing like this.

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The need for “faithful” Electors

November 23, 2016

I got an e-mail the other day asking me to sign a petition to members of the Electoral College pledged to Donald Trump to switch their votes to Hillary Clinton.

This is theoretically possible.  “Faithless” electors have violated their pledges in previous elections.

161101154244-electoral-college-explainer-animation-orig-00002708-exlarge-169But trying to overturn Trump’s election in the Electoral College would set a terrible precedent.  It is a bad and dangerous thing even to attempt.

If I were a Trump voter in a red state, I would be furious at the idea of my vote being set aside by somebody I probably hadn’t even heard of.

It would mean that, in the future, voting would not necessarily decide the Presidential election.  The vote would be followed by an attempt to persuade, threaten or bribe the Electors into going against the wishes of the voters.

Democracy is possible only when the results of elections are regarded as legitimate, and a peaceful transfer for power is taken for granted.

When elections are not regarded as legitimate, the basis of power is armed force.  And in general the Trump supporters are better armed and better trained in the use of weapons than the Clinton supporters.

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The toast of Stephen Decatur

November 11, 2016

Our country, in her intercourse with foreign nations, may she always be in the right, and always successful, right or wrong.
    ==The toast of Stephen Decatur (authentic version)

Our country, may she always be in the right!
But right or wrong, our country!
    ==The toast of Stephen Decatur (commonly quoted version)

My country, right or wrong!
If right, to be kept right.
If wrong, to be set right
`    ==Carl Schurz

“My country, right or wrong” is a thing no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case.  It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”
    ==G.K. Chesterton

Stephen Decatur

Stephen Decatur

Until I looked it up, I thought the toast of Stephen Decatur was, “Our country, may it always be in the right, but right or wrong—our country!”

I could raise a glass to that toast.   My country, right or wrong, is still my country.  This doesn’t mean I have to go along when my country is in the wrong.  It does mean that whatever America’s crimes and follies, I am part of it, and it is part of me.

But “always successful” in war and diplomacy?  That is impossible, either for an individual or a nation, and, furthermore, some kinds of success are not good, either for a nation or for an individual.

Love of country should be like love of family.  Too many people think love of country is like love of God.

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A Muslim veteran against Islamophobia

November 11, 2016

Nate Terani is a Muslim, the grandson of Iranian immigrants and a U.S. Navy veteran.  He also is a member of a new organization called Veterans Challenge Islamophobia.

He grew up in central New Jersey, but, in 1985, the eight-year-old Terani was taken on a visit with his family to his ancestral homeland.  While there, he was enrolled in a special bilingual school for children who had grown up in Western countries.

One day soldiers, in green and black uniforms, broke into the classroom, dragged the children into a courtyard and ordered them to watch the flags of their home countries being set on fire.

Nate Terani in his Navy days

Nate Terani in his Navy days

The children were ordered at gunpoint to trample on the burning flags and shout, “Death to America.”

Instead Terani snatched a burning American flag off the ground and darted through the legs of the watching crowd before the soldiers could catch him.

His experience reinforced his love of country and gave him a new understanding of the evil of religious hatred.

In 1996, at age 19, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.   He must have been an outstanding recruit.  He reported that he was the first Muslim-American member of the Navy Presidential Honor Guard.

In 1998, he became special assistant to the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy, and, in 1999, he was recruited to serve in the Defense Intelligence Agency.   He transferred to the Navy Reserve in 2000 and completed his military service in 2006.

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A choice of evils: links November 5, 2016

November 5, 2016

Trumponomics, Taxes and the American Worker by David Cay Johnston for the Washington Spectator.

It Didn’t Have to Be Hillary by Andrew Levine for Counterpunch.

The GOP’s Stealth War Against Voters by Greg Palast for Rolling Stone.

Barrel Bomb: the Cataclysmic Close of Campaign 2016 by Chris Floyd for Empire Burlesque.

The Places Left Behind by Lily Geismer for Jacobin.  About the Clintons’ “New Markets” initiative.

Gary Johnson is a lesser evil

November 3, 2016

Above is a partial version of an interview with Gary Johnson, the Libertarian presidential candidate, on C-Span.   Click on this to see the full interview.  Click on this to see the C-Span interview with Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate.

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Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate for President, is a likeable individual, and I believe he is an honest one.

He meets the two most important of my three litmus tests for a Presidential candidate.   I don’t believe he would start wars and I think he would respect the Bill of Rights and the Constitution.  If he were the only opponent of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, I would vote for him.

But he doesn’t meet my third criterion, which is to set limits on corporate power and end the growing concentration of American wealth into the hands of a tiny minority of bankers, corporate executives and holders of financial assets.

He opposes the minimum wage at any level.

He would replace the income tax and all other taxes with a consumption tax, which would shift the burden of taxation away from the wealthy and onto the shoulders of the middle class.

He is the only one of the four candidates who openly supports the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.  The TPP and similar agreements, in the guise of promoting free trade, limit the power of sovereign governments to regulate foreign corporations.

While he recognizes the reality of global climate change, he thinks intelligent consumer choice would be sufficient to counteract it, and opposes governmental action.

He agrees with the Citizens United decision on campaign financing, and opposes any limits on campaign spending or contributions.

As Governor of New Mexico, he favored private prisons and privatizing public education.

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