Archive for the ‘The Passing Scene’ Category

Book note: My Travels With a Dead Man

September 7, 2020

My friend Steve Searls has written an intriguing and highly original novel entitled MY TRAVELS WITH A DEAD MAN. 

It reminds me of the SF novels of Philip K. Dick in the way it shows the ambiguous nature of perception and identity.

The protagonist is a half-Japanese young America woman named Jane Takako Wolfsheim, who encounters a mysterious stranger who calls himself Jorge Luis Borges.

They become lovers and go on a strange journey.  As things develop, she sees him variously as a benefactor, a mentor, a protector. a manipulator, a deceiver, a moral monster and a lethal threat. She learns that her Borges is the son of the deceased famous Argentine writer of that name and a time-traveling Viking princess who is very much alive.

She experiences hallucinations, amnesia, false memories and an alternate life in an alternate world.  Along the way she receives oracular advice from the ghost of Basho, a 17th century Japanese poet.

As the novel begins, Jane is weak, passive and naive.  As it progresses, she learns to be assertive, courageous and skeptical, and the ending finds her the mistress of her fate.

I found the novel engrossing.  I kept turning the pages to find out what happened nest and what happened next was usually something i would not have predicted.

Steve has a web site where you can read some of his short fiction, essays and poetry.

A coronavirus near-death experience

August 30, 2020

A 29-Year-Old’s Strange, Unforgettable Trip Into a Covid Coma and Back by Luke Mullins for The Washingtonian.

“Celui qui tombe” (He who falls)

August 24, 2020

Dancers guided by choreographer Yoann Bourgeois used a spinning turntable and centrifugal force to do things not ordinarily possible.

LINKS

Turntable Acrobats Performing Centripetal Illusions by Jason Kottke for kottke.org.

He Who Falls (Celui qui tombe) review – hyper-skilled and remote by Luke Jennings for The Guardian.

William Tell Overture performed on Tesla Coils

August 15, 2020

For those who did not understand what is going on this video, here’s a brief explanation from the Franzoli Electronics YouTube Page: The main loud music really comes from the Tesla coil sparks. They are literally playing the music due to the programmed phase, pulse width and firing frequency! So, there are no speakers, no audio / video special effects. It looks even better in person and sounds almost the same, just without the beat / percussion backing track.

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A Lego sculpture that seems to float in midair

August 10, 2020

For details, click on Build Your Own Magically Floating Lego Tensegrity Sculpture by Jason Kottke on kottke.org.

A Japanese sculptor’s devotion to Antonio Gaudi

August 7, 2020

Kulning, a beautiful medieval Nordic herding call

August 6, 2020

For details, click on Kulning, a Beautiful Medieval Nordic Herding Call by Jason Kottke for kottke.org.

How Trump could win: (2) by election rigging

July 31, 2020

The stability of a democracy rests on losers of an election accepting the fact that they lost fair and square and that they will have another chance to win next time.  But what if that isn’t true?  What if the system is rigged?

Greg Palast, an outstanding investigative reporter, thinks the system is rigged.  He has been devoting himself exclusively to this topic for years.

He reported his latest findings in his new book, HOW TRUMP STOLE 2020: The Hunt for America’s Vanished Voters by Greg Palast with comics by Ted Rall. The book is highly readable, but if you don’t have time to read the whole book, Ted Rall’s cartoons sum up the story.  If you can’t get the book, check out Palast’s home page.

Palast found that, in the 2016 presidential election, 5.87 million votes were cast and never counted.  These included 3.03 mail-in ballots rejected or lost.  In addition, 1.98 million voters were blocked from casting votes.

This did not happen at random.  The 7.85 million Americans who lost their vote were disproportionately African-American, other people of color and younger citizens—all Democratic constituencies.  This probably gave Donald Trump his margin of victory over Hillary Clinton.

In Michigan, for example, 75,355 votes were not counted because ballot scanners in Detroit broke down, even though they could have been counted by hand.  Trump won Michigan by just 10,700 votes.  There are similar stories in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania.

Since 2016, 16.7 million American voter registrations have been canceled, and they are disproportionately minorities.  The Democratic politicians are not the victims here.  The victims are American citizens who have a right to expect fair elections.

Voter suppression and election rigging at this moment in American history is done mainly by Republicans.  That’s not to say that Democrats are angels.  But, according to Palast, what election rigging they do is mainly in primaries.

In the past, ballot-stuffing by Mayor Richard J. Daley’s political machine in Chicago may have give President John F. Kennedy his margin of victory.  The word “gerrymander” comes from Elbridge Gerry, a 19th century Democratic governor of Massachusetts.

Present-day Democrats are strangely indifferent to this issue, as is much of the press.  One exception is Stacey Abrams, a Georgia state legislator who fought against voter suppression even before she ran for governor in 2018.

Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams. Photo: CNN

Her opponent was Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, who purged 500,000 voter registrations on the grounds that they supposedly had left the state.  One of them was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 92-year-old cousin, who was turned away when she tried to vote.

Palast put together a team that checked out every name.  They found that 340,134 of the purged voters had never moved.

Kemp also refused to accept registrations of some 40,000 new minority voters and threatened to arrest Korean-American voter registration volunteers.  His margin of victory over Abrams was just under 55,000 votes.

This is something that has been building up for a long time.

In 2000, George W. Bush’s margin of victory over Al Gore in Florida was 537 votes.  Florida’s vote gave Bush a majority in the Electoral College.

Palast discovered that Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris canceled 94,000 voter registrations, mostly of black voters, on the grounds that they’d committed felonies in other states.    Palast got the list and found that exactly zero were illegal voters.

This was just the beginning.  Just in the past two years, 16.7 million voters have had their registrations canceled.  Among those who’ve turned up on purge lists are Sequanna Taylor, a Milwaukee County supervisor, who, coincidentally or not, is African-American

Palast said his investigators found that, in certain states, one in seven African-American votes and one in eight Hispanic and Asian-American voters were purged.

I refer you to Greg Palast’s book and web site for details about the Crosscheck system, voter caging, voter ID laws, removal of voting machines from key districts, voting machines with verification and anti-hacking features turned off.

Instead I’ll concentrate on the main threat to the integrity of the 2020 elections, which is problems with mail-in ballots and rejection of mail-in ballots.

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The passing scene: links & comments 7/24/2020

July 24, 2020

Who Is the Most Dangerous Fascist? by Glen Ford, editor of the Black Agenda Report.  The best perspective on Donald Trump and fascism I’ve read yet.

Biden Just Made a Big Promise to His Wall Street Donors by David Sirota on Too Much Information

Cold War Escapades in the Pacific by Patrick Lawrence for Consortiumnews.  The danger of war with China.

Russian coronavirus doctors are mysteriously falling out of windows by Alex Ward for Vox.

Chevron vs. human rights – big consequences for the man who fought big oil on We Don’t Have Time.  A lawyer is literally under house arrest and faces criminal charges in the USA for having won an environmental lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador.

A Conversation With Walter Benn Michaels and Adolph Reed Jr. for The Bellows.  Benn Michaels and Reed are the best-known critics of “race reductionism.”

What You Need to Know About the Battle of Portland by Robert Evans for bellingcat.

The passing scene: Links & comments 7/17/2020

July 17, 2020

What Lies Ahead? by Jack Rasmus.  The USA is headed into a depression potentially equivalent to the Great Depression of the 1930s, which will be made worse by the coronavirus pandemic and climate-related emergencies.  The American government and other institutions are unprepared to deal with any of this.  It’s not just Donald Trump!

Economists on the Run by Michael Hirsh for Foreign Policy.  Paul Krugman admits that neoliberal globalization was a mistake.

Why 3rd Quarter Economic Recovery Will Falter by Jack Rasmus.

On the Recession, Stimulus and Economic Recovery by Dean Baker for Beat the Press.

Poor Whites Have Been Written Out of History for a Very Political Reason, an interview with Keri Leigh Merritt for Jacobin magazine.

“Cancel Culture,” Race and the Greed of the Billionaire Class by Thomas Neuberger for Down With Tyranny!

Don’t Be Fooled by the Cancel Culture Wars by Chris Hedges for ScheerPost.

The Obesity Era by David Berreby for Aeon.  The growth in obesity among Americans is generally attributed to poor diet and lack of exercise.  But maybe the cause is something deeper.

The rise and fall of a love affair with China

July 10, 2020

Winston Sterzel is a British South African who settled in China 14-odd years ago.  My fellow blogger “Nikolai Vladivostok” recommends his YouTube channel, SerpentZA: Stay Awesome, China!, which is about life in China.   I got around to watching his videos just this week, only to find that Sterzel has decided to leave China.

He gave his reasons for being fascinated with China in the video above.  He gave his reasons for leaving in the video below.

It is hard to find a non-propaganda view of China.  Sterzel is an intelligent person of good will whose views are not based on promoting a vested interest or ideological agenda.  His videos are well worth watching.  They might not be the last word, but I trust him more than most.

Sterzel went to China when the nation was booming under the leadership of Deng Xiaopeng.  Dang was in no sense a believer in democracy or human rights as these words are understood in the USA.  But he allowed enough slack in the Chinese system to allow a creativity and enterprise to blossom.  He also set up an orderly succession system, so there would not be a struggle for power like that following the death of Mao Zedong.

China’s new ruler, Xi Jinping, is tightening up the system.  He is restoring Maoist thought control, using advanced surveillance technology to monitor and modify all aspects of human behavior.  He also has declared himself ruler for life.  Whether this is compatible with China’s continued growth in wealth and power remains to be seen.

I read the work of Pepe Escobar, who believes that China’s Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the New Silk Road, will bring about the economic integration of Eurasia—China, Central Asia, Russia, Iran and lands beyond.  This potentially could be as important a development in human history as the European Age of Discovery initiated by Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama.

Escobar presents the geopolitical and historical overview.  Winston Sterzel presents the ground-level view.  He makes me wonder whether Xi’s great dreams are all they’re cracked up to be.

LINKS

SerpentZA: Stay Awesome, China!.  A gallery of intriguing videos.

Pepe Escobar: A Roving Eye on Globalistan.

Bears at play

June 20, 2020

Knight Rider theme for eight cellos, one cellist

May 30, 2020

This is a version of the Knight Rider theme song by London-based cellist Samara Ginsberg

Hat tip to Jason Kottke.

Bacteria, viruses and the human mind

May 29, 2020

The following is a quote that I read in the June issue of Harper’s magazine.  It is from the forthcoming book, The Unreality of Memory by Elisa Gilbert.

Viruses and bacteria hijack our minds and make us act weirdly.

For example, Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite found in cat feces, makes mice less afraid of cats; this is an evolutionary strategy, making it easier for the parasite to get from the mouse to the cat.

When it spreads to humans, it may increase their risk-taking.  One study found that people with toxoplasmosis, the infection caused by the parasite, “are more likely to major in business.”  An NBC News story suggested optimistically that the parasite “may give people the courage they need to become entrepreneurs.”

That would be an extreme case of a microscopic parasite altering the course of our lives.  But viruses and bacteria influence our everyday behavior as well.

A 2010 study, for example, found that people become more sociable in the forty-eight hours after exposure to the flu virus, a period in which one is contagious but asymptomatic.  The infected hosts, researchers found, were significantly more likely to head out to bars and parties.

I know of no evidence that coronavirus infection influences human behavior.  None whatsoever.  I am not hinting or implying that it does.

But, as a thought experiment, suppose it did.  How would the virus influence its hosts’ feelings, thoughts and behavior?  What changes would it induce to help itself survive, reproduce and spread?

As the coronavirus lockdown ends (for now) …

May 21, 2020

Click to enlarge

The chart above, via Kevin Drum, shows that the United States has gotten off fairly lightly during the coronavirus pandemic, compared to other Western countries.

The USA has the most total deaths because it has the largest population, but the death rate is the key measure.  The USA is a big country.  Some parts of it are relatively safe and some aren’t, but overall things aren’t as bad as they might be—at least not yet.

 

Click to enlarge

The chart above, also by Kevin Drum, shows that the number of new deaths from the coronavirus is tapering off in Western countries.

As the lockdowns end, the death rates will probably rise again—hopefully not to their previous peak.  If they don’t rise, a lot of what epidemiologists have been telling us about contagion is wrong.  I expect we’ll learn the epidemiologists were right.

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Under the electron microscope

March 28, 2020

There are many more than 10 amazing images in this video, although none of the coronavirus.

Stefan Pabst, painter of 3-D optical illusions

March 21, 2020

Stefan Pabst of Hamburg, Germany, is a master of painting 3-D optical illusions, which I never cease to find fascinating  Here are some examples.

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Ten years a blogger

January 25, 2020

As of today, I’ve been blogging for 10 years.

Blogging satisfies my creative need to write, and my ego need to have someone read what I write.  I’ve become acquainted with interesting people, including some who live in foreign countries and some whose views are very different from my own.

I’m an 83-year-old retired newspaper reporter, living in Rochester, N.Y., with time on my hands and no reason to fear economic consequences of displeasing anybody with what I write.  I’m content with my fortunate and pleasant life while pessimistic about the fate of my nation and the world in general.

I hadn’t realized, until my friend David Damico alerted me to the possibility, that web hosting for blogs was free (although I now pay WordPress a fee for premium service) and that blogging does not require any special knowledge of computer technology

Phil Ebersole

From Jan. 25, 2010 on, I have made 5,014 posts, consisting of about 2 million words.  The posts have drawn more than 1.7 million views in slightly over 1 million individual daily visits.  They’ve received 4,650 comments and 9,405 “likes.”

My blog has 1,320 followers, who are notified every time I post something, although the average number of daily visits is far less.  There are 252 individual posts with comment followers, who are notified every time there is a comment on that particular post.

My previous retirement creative outlet was sending out book reviews by e-mail.  I started my book notes in 2004 by sending a friend brief notes on books I’d read during the previous month.  Over time my notes expanded to lengthy review-essays, and my e-mail list to more than 100 recipients.  I now post all my book notes on my blog while continuing to distribute them by e-mail.

My great fault as a blogger was the same as my fault as a newspaper reporter.  I have been too prolific.  I have written many forgettable things and some that I am embarrassed to remember.  The writings I am proud of are submerged in a vast sea of mediocrity.

On breaking news, I often made a post based on incomplete knowledge, and I had to keep making additional posts to clarify, supplement or correct what I’d written originally.

The posts that I think have lasting value are all about more general topics, some political, some not.  Of course blog posts are impermanent by their very nature, so maybe I shouldn’t worry about lasting value.

As I said, I’m 83.   I’m slowing down mentally as well as physically.  My memory is worsening, and so is my “executive function”—the ability to keep a number of different things in mind at the same time.  I spent too much time with the computer screen and my books and not enough with the practical issues of life.

My short-term goal is fewer but better posts.  I’ll try to post something worth reading every Wednesday.  If I can’t write something, I try to find an interesting video or chart, or a worthwhile link.  This isn’t a commitment—just how I see things now.

I don’t expect to be able to continue posting 10 more years, but who knows?  I’ve already lived longer than I expected.

If you find my posts of interest, I am pleased.  The best way to show your appreciation is to share your own thoughts, especially if you see things differently from me.  Or comment on this post about what you like or don’t like about my approach to blogging overall.

The search for a national conservatism

January 20, 2020

I’ve long said that the Republican Party rests on three pillars—the neocons, who believe there is a military solution to every problem; the theo-cons, who believe there is a Biblical solution to every problem; and the libertarians, who believe there is a free-market solution to every problem.

This is an exaggeration, but an exaggeration of reality that’s only a little bit unfair. Many conservatives recognize their problem, and that was the theme of the National Conservatism Conference in Washington, D.C., last July.

A German journalist named Thomas Meaney, reported on the conference for Harper’s magazine.  He said His report shows the unifying theme of the new conservatism is patriotism and national unity.  Instead of globalization, the new conservatives want an industrial policy to rebuild American manufacturing strength.

Meaney was moved to ask—

What if Trump had dialed down the white nationalism after taking the White House and, instead of betraying nearly every word of his campaign rhetoric of economic populism, had ruthlessly enacted populist policies, passing gargantuan infrastructure bills, shredding NAFTA instead of remodeling it, giving a tax cut to the lower middle class instead of the rich, and conspiring to raise the wages of American workers?

It doesn’t take much to imagine how that would play against a Democratic challenger with McKinsey or Harvard Law School imprinted on his or her forehead.

There seemed to be two futures for Trumpism as a distinctive strain of populism: one in which the last reserves of white identity politics were mined until the cave collapsed and one in which the coalition was expanded to include working Americans, enlisting blacks and Hispanics and Asians in the cause of conquering the condescending citadels of Wokistan.

Was it predestined that Trump would choose the former?

Source: Harper’s Magazine

My answer is, yes, it was predestined that Trump make the choices he did.  Character is destiny, and Trump has the character of a showman and confidence man.  His business record shows this.

He is smart enough to give the common people the appearance of respect, while serving the interests of Wall Street and the military-industrial complex.

There is nothing in his record to indicate that he has either the interest or sense of purpose to do anything more than that.

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How educated liberals alienate working people

December 31, 2019

Here’s a little thought experiment: What would happen if, by a snap of the fingers, white racism in America were to disappear?

It might be that the black and Latino working class would be voting for Trump, too. Then we Democrats would have no chance in 2020.

We often tell ourselves: “Oh, we lost the white working class because of race.”  But maybe the truth is something closer to this: “It’s only because of race that we have any part of the working class turning out for us at all.”

This is the beginning of an article by Chicago labor lawyer Thomas Geoghegan in The New Republic. His point is that that leaders of the Democratic Party and also the Washington press corps are college graduates who have little or nothing to do with mere high school graduates, even though they are the majority of Americans.

The liberal solution to economic inequality in the USA is college education for everybody.  In other words, the message of the liberal elite is: Imitate us.

This is insulting and is felt as an insult, Geoghegan said.  It also tells the majority of Americans over 30 that they are doomed.

And even if college education were universal, it wouldn’t end poverty, raise wages or cure economic inequality.  It would simply be a higher bar you have to reach in order to have any kind of economic future at all.

Geoghegan said that’s why the most astute thing that Donald Trump ever said was, “I love the uneducated.”

It wasn’t always this way.  I am old enough to remember a time when a majority of Senators and Congresspeople, not to mention President Harry Truman, had no education beyond high school.

 I was one of only two college graduates employed by the first newspaper I worked for, in 1959.  The other was the city editor, who had a degree in chemistry.

That era was certainly no utopia, but politicians lived in the same neighborhoods as their constituents and journalists lived in the same neighborhoods as their readers.

Not that education, or liberal education, is useless.  It is just that it is not a solution to problems caused by concentration and abuse of economic and political power.

By the way, exit polls showed that Donald Trump got 8 percent of the African-American vote and 29 percent of the Hispanic vote in 2016.

LINK

Educated Fools: Why Democrats still misunderstand the politics of social class by Thomas Geoghegan for The New Republic.

Merry Christmas 2019

December 24, 2019

I found this on the Dispatches from the Asylum blog.  Every post ends with an excellent musical selection.

Happy Holidays 2019

December 21, 2019

Can you guess in what city the pictures above and below were taken?

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Baroque chamber music for train horns

December 14, 2019

Sources: The Kid Should See This and kottke.org.

Johann Pachelbel composed his Canon and Gigue for 3 violins and basso continuo sometime between 1680 and 1706,  I don’t recall ever hearing Pachelbel’s Canon under that name, but the music is strangely familiar.

A Czech named Pavel Jirásek edited short bits from ACETrainsUK’s horn compilation of trains in the United Kingdom with other clips of train horns to recreate the melody of the famous chamber music composition.

Is the U.S. educational system failing?

December 11, 2019

My friend James in Texas e-mailed a link to a New York Times article on the latest results of the Program for International Assessment tests, which compare proficiency of students in 79 school systems around the world.

Overall the U.S. results didn’t seem to be that bad.  American children are in the middle of the pack of advanced nations in reading, somewhat below in math, but better overall than in the previous round of tests.  However, as the Times writer pointed out, there are disparities within the averages.

About a fifth of American 15-year-olds scored so low on the PISA test that it appeared they had not mastered reading skills expected of a 10-year-old, according to Andreas Schleicher, director of education and skills at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which administers the exam.

Those students, he said, face “pretty grim prospects” on the job market.

James is an architect.  He worked as a substitute school teacher in the 1980s, taught design and algebra in community colleges in the 2000s and is now working on a certificate to teach in high school.  These are his observations from two decades.

1. Detracking – all kids dumped into same classroom, no honors or remedial grouping, no separate special ed class, teacher now must do 5 or 6 different lessons simultaneously instead of one. Advanced kids are bored and essentially teaching themselves, while slower kids are perpetually lost and have stopped even pretending to care.

2. No enforceable conduct standards – no consequences for anything, 2/3 of kids are basically feral, kids know teachers are powerless, with no administrative support, teachers given all responsibility for “classroom management” with zero actual authority, too busy being social workers and ringleaders instead of teaching.

3. Time theft – minimal lunchtime, no recess, obsessively timing every activity to the minute, weeks stolen for state testing, teachers’ weekends stolen for useless seminars and endless meetings. Kids can’t sustain attention enough to think deeply about anything, and teachers don’t have time to breathe, let alone teach.

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Why hospitals never have enough nurses

December 10, 2019

Prasad’s Law:

Medical goods and services that concentrate wealth can be paid for; medical goods and services that disperse wealth are “unaffordable.”

Source: naked capitalism

Prescribing more drugs or scheduling more doctor’s appointments means more revenue.  Hiring more nurses does not.  Click on this link for a discussion of what this means.