Archive for the ‘The Passing Scene’ Category

Dance! Dance! Dance! a mashup

September 11, 2021

The passing scene: Links & comments 9/1/2021

September 1, 2021

Here are some links to writings I found interesting.  Maybe you will, too.

Costa Ricans Live Longer Than Us – What’s the Secret? by Atul Gowande for The New Yorker.

The average Costa Rican’s income is about one-sixth that of the average US American.  Yet Costa Ricans enjoy longer life expectancies, and are healthier by many other measures.

Atul Gowande wrote that Costa Rica, more than most nations, emphasizes public health—preventing infectious disease outbreaks, malnutrition, toxic hazards, sanitary problems and the like.  It also has clinics that provide free medical care to the whole population, rural as well as urban, poor as well as rich.

Costa Rica is admirable in many ways.  Surrounded by military dictatorships, it has been a democracy with no army for 72 years and counting.  It also is a leader in renewable energy and environmental preservation.

The Great Game of Smashing Nations by John Pilger for Consortium News.

One of the rationales for keeping troops in Afghanistan is to protect women from being oppressed by the Taliban.  But, as John Pilger pointed out, the women of Afghanistan were doing just fine in the 1980s.  Half the university students were women, and women made up 40 percent of Afghanistan’s doctors, 70 percent of its teachers and 30 percent of its civil servants.

But Afghanistan was friendly to the Soviet Union.  The U.S. government recruited fanatic anti-feminist jihadists to overthrow the Afghan government, in order to draw the Soviets into a quagmire war.  The plan succeeded.  The people of Afghanistan, especially the women, paid the price.

Mob Justice Is Trampling Democratic Discourse by Anne Applebaum for The Atlantic.

In today’s USA, you can lose your job and become a social outcast if someone accuses you of violating social codes have to do with race, sex, personal behavior or even acceptable humor–codes that, as Anne Applebaum wrote, may not have existed five years ago or even five months ago.

I’m reminded of the McCarthy period in the 1950s, which I’m old enough to remember.  You could be accused of being pro-Communist for trivial reasons or no reason at all.  The difference is that, in that era, most academics and journalists defended freedom of speech and association, which is not the case today.

Zeynep Tufekci on the Sociology of The Moment, an interview on Conversations with Tyler.

Zepnep Tufekci, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina, is doing some of the best writing on the COVID-19 pandemic.  She was born in Turkey.

Here she is interviewed by the economist Tyler Cowen about the pandemic, Turkey and her ways of understanding things.

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A flotilla of origami

August 29, 2021

These watercraft are about an inch or so in size, activated by capillary action and surface tension.  They were created by Etienne Cliquet in 2011.  I found the video on The Kids Should See This via kottke.org.

Boston Dynamics’ robots Atlas and Handle

August 21, 2021

I find these robots’ antics highly impressive, sort-of amusing and vaguely ominous.  How long until such machines will be directing traffic, waiting on tables in restaurants or leading high school students in calisthenics?

Leaps, Bounds and Backflips by Calvin Hennick for Boston Dynamics.  Hat tip to kottke.org.

Barack Obama’s 60th birthday extravaganza

August 13, 2021

Here’s how Matt Taibbi saw it:

“Even Scaled Back,” wrote Vanity Fair, “Barack Obama’s Birthday Bash Is the Event of the Season.”

Not even the famed glossy Bible of the unapologetic rich seemed sure of whether to write Obama’s Birthday bash straight or as an Onion headline: what did the “Event of the Season” mean during a pandemic?

A former president flying half the world’s celebrities to spend three days in a mask-less ring-kissing romp at a $12 million Martha’s Vineyard mansion, at a moment when only a federal eviction ban prevented the outbreak of a national homelessness crisis, was already an all-time “Fuck the Optics” news event, and that was before the curve ball.

Because of what even the New York Times called “growing concerns” over how gross the mega-party looked, not least for the Joe Biden administration burdened with asking the nation for sober sacrifice while his ex-boss raised the roof with movie stars in tropical shirts, advisers prevailed upon the 44th president to reconsider the bacchanal.

But characteristically, hilariously, Obama didn’t cancel his party, he merely uninvited those he considered less important, who happened to be almost entirely his most trusted former aides.

Cast out, the Times said, were “the majority of former Obama administration officials… who generally credit themselves with helping create the Obama legacy,” including former top aide David Axelrod, who’d just called Obama an “apostle of hope” in the Washington Post and sat for a three-hour HBO documentary deep-throat of his ex-boss.

Remaining on the list were celeb couples Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, as well as Dwyane Wade and Gabrielle Union, along with Steven Spielberg, George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Bruce Springsteen, Questlove, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Don Cheadle, and other Fabulous People, who drank “top shelf liquor,” puffed stogies, and hit the links at the Vineyard Golf Club (membership fee: $350,000). 

[snip]

There’s a glorious moment in the life of a certain kind of politician, when either because their careers are over, or because they’re so untouchable politically that it doesn’t matter anymore, that they finally get to remove the public mask, no pun intended.

This Covid bash was Barack Obama’s “Fuck it!” moment.

He extended middle fingers in all directions: to his Vineyard neighbors, the rest of America, Biden, the hanger-on ex-staffers who’d stacked years of hundred-hour work weeks to build his ballyhooed career, the not quite A-listers bounced at the last minute for being not famous enough (sorry, Larry David and Conan O’Brien!), and so on.

It’d be hard not to laugh imagining Axelrod reading that even “Real Housewife of Atlanta” Kim Fields got on the party list over him, except that Obama giving the shove-off to his most devoted (if also scummy and greedy) aides is also such a perfect metaphor for the way he slammed the door in the faces of the millions of ordinary voters who once so desperately believed in him.

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Juggling from above

August 7, 2021

Juggling, from the usual angle, looks like a very hectic endeavor — balls and clubs and hands flying everywhere. But if you get an overhead view, as in this video from Taylor Glenn, you can see that often there’s very little movement in two of the three dimensions. The mastery of these small movements combined with the sweeping up-and-down motions creates a compelling illusion for ground-based viewers. The power of a different perspective.

Source: kottke.org.

For background, click on Taylor Tries Juggling From Above on The Kids Should See This.

Obedience and rebellion

July 28, 2021

When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion.

==C.P. Snow

Every tyranny must necessarily be grounded upon general popular acceptance. In short, the bulk of the people themselves, for whatever reason, acquiesce in their own subjection….If we led our lives according to the ways intended by nature and the lessons taught by her, we should be intuitively obedient to our parents; later we should adopt reason as our guide and become slaves to nobody.

==Etienne de la Boetie

Civil disobedience is not our problem. Our problem is civil obedience. Our problem is that people all over the world have obeyed the dictates of the leaders of their government and have gone to war, and millions have been killed because of this obedience…Our problem is that people are obedient all over the world in the face of poverty and starvation and stupidity, and war, and cruelty. Our problem is that people are obedient while the jails are full of petty thieves, and all the while the grand thieves are running the country. That’s our problem.

==Howard Zinn

Procrastination

July 10, 2021

This is from Grant Snider’s Incidental Comics.

Sheep herding viewed from above

July 3, 2021

I admire the professionalism of these hard-working sheep dogs.

The video was shot from a drone.

Doggerel by a senior citizen

June 30, 2021

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What the Geneva summit revealed about Biden

June 23, 2021

Joe Biden arrives in Geneva June 15. (AP)

During the 2020 Democratic presidential primary campaign, a number of observers expressed concern about Joe Biden’s cognitive abilities.

Foreign corespondent Patrick Lawrence wrote that President Biden’s performance at the Geneva summit meeting last week bears this out.

Geneva requires us to face a fact most of us have either flinched from, buried altogether, or noted in an offhand manner not devoid of mockery. 

The fact is this: We have a president who suffers some measure of senility and is in consequence incapable of fully executing his duties.  Geneva brought this home in the starkest of circumstances.

[snip]

Flubs in press conferences, more malapropisms than you’ve had hot dinners, Biden’s failure to remember what the Declaration of Independence is called—“the, you know, you know, the thing”—are small stuff in the end, the stuff of the jokes.

An inability to conduct the affairs of state with a major world power is quite another. No room for ridicule or YouTube segments here. The matter is simply too grave.

Two highly consequential treaties—Open Skies and New START—tensions NATO provokes on Russia’s western flank, the Syria mess, the Ukraine mess, Russia’s hypersonic weaponry, Israel’s apparent intent to go for broke this time with the Palestinians, all the cyberbusiness—little to nothing got done in Geneva on any of these questions.

Given how thoroughly Biden’s people scripted his appearance, I am convinced this was intentional. Get out there and posture for the “folks” back home, Mr. Prez. We’ll take care of the substantive stuff later.

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Book note: White Supremacy Culture

June 18, 2021

A SELF-CONFESSED WHITE SUPREMACY CULTURE: The Emergence of an Illiberal Left in Unitarian Universalism by Anne Larason Schneider (2019)

In 2017, the Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees took the unusual step of declaring that the UUA was part of a “culture of white supremacy,” and declaring that its mission was to root out this culture.

The UUA is, by some definitions, the most liberal religious movement in the USA. So why would its leaders would describe themselves in words formerly applied to neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan?

It makes a little more sense if you realize that “white supremacy culture” is something more vague and insidious than plain white supremacy. White supremacy is an ideology that says that white people have a right to conquer, enslave, drive out or kill off non-white people.

“White supremacy culture” is defined as a set of traits and attitudes that are common to white people, including nice well-meaning white people, and not shared by nonwhite people.

At worst, it is claimed that these attitudes are detrimental to non-white people and maintain white dominance. At best, they exclude non-white people. Either way, the “whiteness” of even well-meaning white people is believed to be harmful, and needs to be overcome.

A Unitarian-Universalist named Anne Larason Schneider, a retired political science professor, took it on herself to research whether there is any basis for belief in white supremacy culture, and such related concepts as white privilege, implicit bias, micro aggression and white fragility. The results are in this book.

She found that the most commonly-used description of white supremacy culture comes from a 2001 article by Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun. A Google search shows the article is still widely quoted, including by Unitarian Universalists.

Jones and Okun said white supremacy culture is marked by (1) perfectionism, (2) sense of urgency, (3) defensiveness, (4) quantity over quality, (5) worship of the written word, (6) only one right way, (7) paternalism, (8) either/or thinking, (9) power hoarding, (10) fear of open conflict, (11) individualism, (12) “I’m the only one,” (13) progress is bigger and more, (14) objectivity and (15) right to comfort.

One notable thing about the Jones-Okun article is that race, racial groups and racial prejudice are not mentioned except in the title and opening and closing paragraphs. Take them away and it would be a typical critique of business management practices. It is almost as if such a critique had been retitled and repurposed.

Another thing that struck Schneider is how the alleged traits of white people fit in with historic racial stereotypes.

Are white people perfectionists? If so, does that imply that black people, Hispanics and American Indians are sloppy? Do white people have a sense of urgency? If so, does that imply that non-white people are habitually late?

Do white people worship the written word? If so, does that imply non-whites are only semi-literate? Do white people value objectivity? If so, does that imply that non-white people don’t care about facts?

Would non-white people benefit if white people become less individualistic, perfectionist, objective and so on? Schneider said there is no evidence and no logical reason to think so.

The important question is whether there is any reason to think that whites and non-whites are divided along these lines. Or are “power hoarding,” “fear of open conflict,” or belief in “a right to comfort” traits found in all human beings?

Schneider found a survey showing that whites were on average a little more individualistic that blacks, Asians and Hispanics, but only by a few percentage points. Other than that, she found no empirical data either supporting or refuting the essay. It is mere assertion.

Because White Supremacy Culture ideology cannot be defended on rational grounds, it can only defended based on appeals to emotion, attacks on motives and exercise of authority.

One example of this is the campaign against Schneider’s friend, the Rev. Todd Eklof, to whom she devotes a chapter.  This is bad news for Unitarian Universalists who believe in historic principles of freedom, reason and tolerance.

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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.