Saturday, November 18, 2017

America, the "Greatest Force for Good in the World" ?

Someone remarked on Facebook:

"Once upon a time, America had a long history of being the greatest force for good in the world"

That's a popular notion, especially here in the US.

On the other hand, many countries abolished slavery before we did. Health care and elder care guaranteed by the state goes back to the 19th century in some other countries.

Between the secession of Texas and the Mexican-American War about half of Mexico became part of the US. Ask around in Mexico about whether the US has been the greatest force for good in the world, and you might get some rather nuanced answers. And don't even start about Mexicans streaming into the the US illegally -- do I really even have to tell you? They're crossing the border into what used to be Mexico.

You could also ask a Native American what he or she thinks of the notion of the US being a force for good in the world. Etc.

We're not worse then other countries, we're not better either. And by the way, you people from outside of the US, like the one who answered that Facebook comment by saying that you are disgusted with us for "choosing Trump," and are "through with us" now? Way to stand by us in our time of trouble. Trump is definitely the worst President we've had, but he was elected with a minority of the popular vote in an election in which the Democratic Party had been deeply divided by Bernie Sanders -- just your kind of guy, I'm guessing: worse than useless, but always ready to complain about the shortcomings of others -- not to mention awfully persistent rumours of Russian meddling, and the number of Americans polled who say they want Trump to be removed from office is awfully close to half, and rising steadily. Yes, Trump is a horrible man, and he has given the US and the world some horrible problems to deal with, but we will get through this, even without your help, Mr I'm-disgusted-With-The-US-And I'm-Through-With-Them, although I'm sure that won't stop you and Bernie Sanders from taking credit for getting rid of Trump as soon as he's gone.

There is a lot of good and a lot of bad in the US. Like any huge thing involving hundreds of millions of people, the US is very complex.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Jorge, Dovi and Ducati

Everybody associated with Ducati says that the messages to Jorge Lorenzo during the last two races of the season, to pull over and let Andrea Dovizioso pass, were not orders, but just "suggestions." After the last race, the Valencian Grand Prix, Lorenzo said he thought he was faster than Dovi, and that Dovi's best chance was to let Lorenzo pull him up close to the leaders.

Which is complete bullshit. Just like in Malaysia, the second-to-last race of the season, Dovi was all over Jorge's rear wheel, lap after lap, which means he was faster than Jorge. If Jorge had been faster, he would have pulled away from Dovi and opened up a bigger and bigger lead over him.

In Valencia, the Ducati pit crews didn't look as if they thought the instruction were just "suggestions." They looked like people who were thinking exactly the same thing the rest of us were: "Why the &$%# doesn't Jorge get out of Dovi's way?"

I'm not surprised that Dovi says that he doesn't think Jorge was holding him up, because that's the kind of guy Dovi is: gracious and polite. If he had a problem with what Jorge did, I imagine he would either tell it to Jorge to his face in private, or he wouldn't complain at all.

I'm not surprised by Jorge's behavior either, because he's sort of like the President of the United States: a self-centered asshole who has never admitted he was wrong.

I'm sort of surprised that no-one from Ducati is complaining about Jorge. But maybe they will prefer to fire him and let people read between the lines.

Monday, November 13, 2017

No Second Hands

Until quite recently, I assumed that watches made in the 20th or 21st centuries all had second hands, or other ways of displaying seconds such as digitally, with the exception of that one weird thing which has 1 hour hand on a 24-hour dial, which never appealed to me (and still doesn't), what with its genuine Swiss-Made quartz movement and all. I'm a mechanical watch guy. The one possible exception to mechanical I could imagine owning would be a Casio G-Shock.

But then I noticed that a lot of the really expensive mechanical watches I'd been avidly looking at pictures of have no second hands. I first noticed this with the Panerai brand, whose prices appear to start well up into 4 figures and end way, way up in 5 figures, if not higher. I had looked at pictures of lots and lots of new Panerais before I noticed that either all or almost all of them have either a small seconds hand at 9 o'clock,

or, in many, many cases, no second hand at all:

See the words "8 DAYS" above the 6 there? That means the watch, like many Panerais, has an 8-day power reserve: wind it up all the way, then stick in in a drawer and go on a week-long vacation, and it'll still be running when you get back. What surprises me even more than the lack of a second-hand, on an 8-day watch, is the lack of a power reserve indicator. 8 days is a way-above-average power reserve. I'd definitely want a power reserve indicator on an 8-day watch. Some 8-day Panerais have them, some don't.

Anyway, back to second hands: I soon found out that Panerai was by no means unusual in making very expensive watches, watches with gold or platinum cases in some cases, with no second hands. I've investigated online discussions about the topic of the second hand. Not everyone is shocked like me about all the expensive watches with no second hands. Some say that the face of a dress watch with no second hand is "elegant" or "uncluttered." Same say: why do you need a second hand?

I don't need a second hand. I don't NEED a watch, but I WANT one. A pocket watch with a sweep second hand and a huge power reserve and a power reserve indicator and a platinum case and a thick platinum chain.

Then I thought of all of those extremely-expensive watches with tourbillons. The tourbillon is an extremely-expensive, extremely-complicated feature in some watch movements. The tourbillon was invented around 1795. In 1795, it helped a watch to be more accurate and precise. Today, much simpler movements are as accurate and precise, or more so, than the now unnecessarily-complicated tourbillon movement. Nobody at all, today, NEEDS a watch with a tourbillon movement, but some people WANT them so much that they will pay six or seven figures for such a watch. And such watches, naturally, often do not have second hands. Indeed, it's often hard to see the hour and minute hands. But seeing those hands is not really the point. They're kind of just getting in the way of looking at the tourbillon through the watch's transparent case.

Friday, November 10, 2017

The GOP in Alabama and Nationwide

The Alabama Political Reporter has published a good piece by Josh Moon in which he asks, referring to Roy Moore, how low the Alabama Republican Party is going to sink. Josh Moon draws a distinction between the Alabama GOP and the party nationwide, and it's true that some Republican politicians outside of Alabama have called upon Moore to resign from the special election for US Senator on December 12, and that no Republican politicians from inside Alabama have done so. Still, the parallels between the disastrous state of things in Republican-led Alabama on the one hand, and the Trump administration and the response of most Republican politicians nationwide to Trump, are striking. Moon asks:

"What’s it going to take before you realize that your family values, my-sin-is-better-than-your-sin, conservative voting approach has produced a state government filled with lying, cheating, sexually assaulting, money-grubbing criminals who have embarrassed us countless times, and on top of everything, mismanaged the hell out of this place?"

That's Moon talking about Alabama, but how many words would you have to change before it's a perfectly legitimate question to ask of Republicans in general, and of their response to the Trump administration in particular? One, at the most, I think.

That's the very same Trump administration whose Attorney General is Jeff Sessions, recently US Senator from Alabama, whose vacated seat Moore and Doug are Jones set to contest on Dec 12, unless Moore withdraws from the race over revelations of sexual misconduct with girls as young as 14 years old.

It seems clear to me that the bottom for the GOP is not going to be determined by ethics, but by poll numbers. There's hardly any leadership left in the party: they just keep following the crazy right-wing fringe of their base further and further down into a sewer of insanity. When -- not if -- the GOP and their polling numbers shrink enough, one of two things is bound to happen: either 1) their leadership will made a profound change and lead again, and say no the right-wing fringe, and no to accepting horrible behavior as long as the perpetrator gets elected, or 2) they will simply cease to be a significant factor in US politics, leaving the Democrats in firm control and the Greens and the Libertarians to scrap over the #2 spot. The most significant question is how much suffering the GOP will cause in the meantime. Assuming that 3) doesn't happen, that they don't literally kill off the entire human race.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Stephen Greenblatt's Swerve is Not as Accurate as One Might Wish

It's annoying, if you've spent a lot of time and effort carefully writing something, if a reviewer comments in a way which makes it clear that the reviewer has either not read your work at all carefully, or has not read it all. It's happened to me a few times. I don't like it at all.

The Recognitions, by William Gaddis,

is now generally regarded as one of the finest novels ever written by an American. But when it was published in 1955, and for some years after that, it was not generally so regarded. In 1962, a man who, under the pseudonym jack green, wrote and published an "underground" periodical called newspaper, presented in that publication his assessment of the first 55 reviews of The Recognitions. The title of the piece was green's suggestion about what should happen with these book critics: "fire the bastards!"

When green took on Gaddis' critics, he had an enormous advantage over almost all of them: he had actually read The Recognitions, carefully and all the way through. In almost half of the 55 reviews green pointed out mistaken assertions about what happened in the plot; he was even able to prove that one review had been stolen from another. "fire the bastards!" also shows that green considered The Recognitions to be a masterpiece.

In 2017, after both Gaddis and green have been dead for decades, Gaddis' reputation as a writer is as high as it can be, and green's is not bad. I would warn against taking this as proof that many people have actually read either Gaddis or green. I would not assume, necessarily, that most of the copies of their works which have been printed, have also been read. Still, however well-founded or unfounded they may be, their current high reputations are well-deserved, so, good.

The Swerve, by Stephen Greenblatt,

was published in 2011 and won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction. It the story of how in the early 15th century, the Italian humanist and discoverer of lost ancient texts Poggio Bracciolini -- usually referred to today by his first name only, like Dante Alighieri, Michelangelo Buonarroti, Prince Rogers Nelson and Madonna Ciccone -- discovered a manuscript of de rerum natura (On the Nature of Things), the book of Epicurean philosophy written in the 1st century BC by the Roman poet Lucretius.

Someone online -- I don't remember exactly who or where or when. It may have been on Facebook, and it may have been shortly after the book was published -- recommended The Swerve to me in rapturous tones. His description of it made me suspicious: he told me that the book told the story of how the re-discovery of Lucretius ushered in the modern age. My first reaction was that that story was a bit cuckoo-bananas. Not that I had anything against Lucretius or Poggio. On the contrary, Lucretius was and is one of my favorite authors, and Poggio was known to me as a prominent Renaissance humanist.

But I also knew that Lucretius was just one of many brilliant Classical authors, Poggio just one of the many brilliant Classical scholars of the Renaissance, and that Poggio coming across that manuscript of Lucretius was just one of many important finds of Classical literature made in the 15th century, as well as before and since.

And for some reason, just lately I started to think about Greenblatt's book again, and I searched for reviews of it, and found one layman after another, apparently trusting that Greenblatt was an authority on these matters, and astonished at how one discovery of a manuscript had changed the whole world. Let me nor forget to point out that, in situations like this, when people refer to "the whole world," they mean the Western European world and its colonizing outposts.

But I hastened to remind myself that I hadn't read Greenblatt's book yet, and to ask myself whether Greenblatt had actually said anything like what these reviewers said he said.

So next I searched for reactions to The Swerve by Classicists, by the experts in the field of ancient Latin, and I found that most of those reactions were negative.

Often polite and negative, as Classicists often are when referring to written work they don't like: for example, in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review, Diana Robin, reviewing Gerard Passannante's book The Lucretian Renaissance, says that it "provides a counter- weight to The Swerve, Stephen Greenblatt’s new and breezy but factually challenged account of the rediscovery of the De rerum natura." If there's one way in which one wouldn't want a book of history to be challenged, I think it would be factually.

Anthony Grafton, reviewing The Swerve in the New York Review of Books, politely laments: “The Swerve is not always as accurate as one would wish.”

In his review of The Swerve, the blogger known as Baerista notes that remark by Grafton, and adds: "From a world-class scholar like Grafton, who is widely known as an extremely generous man, always careful to wrap even the faintest criticism in a wadding of praise, such clear-cut words can be taken as the verbal equivalent to a bitchslap." Baerista himself is less restrained,
summing up his account of The Swerve by calling it "garbage."

Tim O'Neill's review -- not overly polite -- accuses Greenblatt of wanting to have his cake and eat it too. It contains rather more and lengthier quotations from The Swerve than any of the other reviews I've read so far, and shows how Greenblatt gives lay people those silly notions about one discovery of one ancient author changing "the whole world" (that is, Western civilization), but then claims that he never intended to spread such mistaken notions. O'Neill charges: "Greenblatt's book is full of this kind of thing. After pages and pages of making a point, often more by broad assertion, generalisation or even insinuation, he will slip in a brief 'escape clause' sentence which shows that he knows what he is saying can be challenged or which even undermines what he has just presented completely. But he does so very quietly and many or even most general readers would not notice or understand the import of these asides. Certainly few of his reviewers did so."

After reading O'Neill's review, I concluded, with very little enthusiasm, that I needed to read The Swerve myself and see if, perhaps, it was a little better than its detractors said. Which would mean that that National Book Award and that Pulitzer Prize wouldn't be so much of a joke.

It's just as bad as its detractors say.

But there's a hint of a book which might have been good: The Swerve opens with a moving account of how Greenblatt, as a student, found a copy of an English translation of de rerum natura in a campus co-op, and how its Epicurian message that there is nothing to fear in death was so transformative for Greenblatt and some of his loved ones.

Greenblatt loves Lucretius. And there's nothing wrong with love. Love is great, love is good, love is a huge positive force.

Could there have been a good book here, if Greenblatt stayed focused on his own personal story, and the importance of Lucretius in that story, instead of making silly claims about Lucretius transforming "the world" and Poggio's discovery of Lucretius miraculously saving his poem from being lost forever -- only to cover his ass again and again, just as O'Neill accuses him of doing, so that he can claim that he never meant to give all of those erroneous notions to all of those laypeople (which didn't prevent those erroneous notions from spreading)?

Some of Greenblatt's harshest critics -- Catholic clergymen in some cases -- accuse him of painting a ridiculously negative view of the Middle Ages, only to err themselves a bit by painting a too positive view. The Middle Ages were a mixed bag. Some individual people did embody the superstitious hostility to everything non-Christian which Greenblatt emphasizes in his portrayal of Poggio's view of the Middle Ages -- one of the 'escape clauses' derided by O'Neill is that Greenblatt can claim that he only said that Poggio thought that the Middle Ages were horrible and superstitious, not that he agreed with Poggio -- and some Medieval individuals exemplify the sophisticated scholarship which, according to apologists, was the essence of Medieval Christianity.

But to get away from the sweeping generalizations which have caused so much praise and so much condemnation of The Swerve, to more specific statements, the book gets low marks. Greenblatt really does completely miss much of the Classical scholarship which thrived in the Middle Ages, along with his unrelenting emphasis on the Inquisition and the flagellants. But of course, the Inquisition and the brilliant scholarship both existed, just as people were tried and burnt as witches during the same Renaissance which produced all of those famous Italian geniuses, just as today there are cultured geniuses alongside ignorant fanatics.

To Poggio and his fellow Renaissance humanists, the most important ancient writer of Latin, far more important than Vergil, who came in second there, was not Lucretius, it was Cicero. Cicero was so highly thought of that the ridiculous notion spread among Renaissance scholars that the best way to write Latin was to consciously imitate Cicero. This was the mainstream view among Poggio's contemporaries. This recent collection of letters and polemics published by the i tatti Renaissance Library, Ciceronian Controversies, with the original 15th-, 16th- and 17th-century Latin texts on the left and English translations on the facing right-hand pages,

shows how far ahead Cicero was than all the other ancients in the general opinion of Renaissance Classicists, and what an uphill battle any of them had who thought that imitating Cicero was not the best of all possible ways to write.

If Lucretius was as central to Machiavelli's work as Greenblatt claims, why did Machiavelli write an entire book about Livy and none about Lucretius? If you asked Greenblatt this, I think he might well answer that Lucretius was dangerous, so that his influence had to be hidden. Which is ridiculous, both in general and in the specific case of Machiavelli, who was anything but bashful in his writing.

Speaking of Livy, Greenblatt claims that Livy's entire work was gathered together by Petrarch (1304-74). Does Greenblatt even realize that 106.9 of the 142 books of Livy's work, ab urbe condita, a history of Rome, are missing today? Or that 5 of the books we have today were missing until 1527? Or that Petrarch, although he was a great editor of Livy, had no need to gather Livy's works together, because they -- the 30 books known at the time -- were all quite well-known? One thing's certain: laypeople won't learn any of that by reading Greenblatt.

Speaking of editing, does Greenblatt have any idea that one of the most stupendous acts of Classical editing was performed with the manuscripts of -- you guessed it -- Lucretius, in the mid-19th century, when Bernays and Lachmann proved, on the basis of the existing manuscripts of Lucretius, that they all stemmed from one 5th-century manuscript written in all caps?

Speaking of manuscripts: in another of O'Neill's "escape clauses," Greenblatt admits that he knows that two manuscripts of Lucretius' entire poem, plus additional fragments, were written in the 9th century. But did he give any thought as to why they were written then? It was because Charlemagne (742-814) began a huge program of preserving and copying Classical manuscripts. Yes, there was a huge 9th-century surge in Classical studies. It's sometimes referred to as the Carolingian Renaissance. There was another surge in the 12th century. (My theory -- supported by no-one else that I know of -- is that this 12th-century revival of Classical learning in Western Europe, also sometimes referred to as a Renaissance, occurred in part because a lot of the most pious types were far away in the Crusades, allowing those back at home much more freedom to do what they felt like, whether it was study Classical Latin or sing bawdy troubador songs or play chess, to name three things sometimes frowned upon by the more intolerant Christians.) Is Greenblatt entirely quiet about these Medieval surges in Classical scholarship because they don't fit comfortably into his narrative, or merely because he's never heard of them? [PS, 22 November 2017: I was wrong, Greenblatt does mention the Carolingian Renaissance: "In addition to the fifteenth-century Renaissance, there had been other moments of intense interest in antiquity, both throughout medieval Italy and in the kingdoms of the north, including the great Carolingian Renaissance of the ninth century" (p 116). Great, Greenblatt calls it -- but not great enough that Greenblatt describes it in any further detail. It only gets one other mention in the book, entirely in passing: "the time of Charlemagne, when there was a crucial burst of interest in ancient books" (p 12). "Moments." "a burst." Greenblatt implies that these times of interest in ancient Latin were so brief that if you blinked you might have missed them, the way that I missed Greenblatt's reference to the Carolingian Renaissance in my first reading of his book because, frankly, I was bored.]

The manuscript of Lucretius which Poggio found in 1417 has been proven -- by the Classical scholars who don't think much of Greenblatt -- to have been copied from a copy of O, one of those 9th-century manuscripts which still survive today. The manuscript Poggio found has disappeared. We don't know how many other Medieval manuscripts of Lucretius there may have been. I don't know how, in the face of these manuscripts, Greenblatt can say (p 209 of the 2011 Norton hardcover edition of The Swerve) that, in the 15th century, and all because of Poggio, "On the Nature of Things slowly made its way again into the hands of readers, about a thousand years after it had dropped out of sight." About a thousand years. How can he say that, when people today can literally hold some 9th-century evidence directly to the contrary in their hands, evidence which Greenblatt mentions in the same book? I don't know. Maybe this book was actually written by a committee, and the various members didn't read each other's work. Maybe Greenblatt thinks it was "about a thousand years" from the 9th century to the 15th. Maybe he thinks that no Medieval manuscript of Lucretius was read before 1417, that the Medieval copies were without exception simply copied and then immediately put onto shelves for rotting purposes. (He not only doesn't equate copying a manuscript with reading its text, he actually claims that it was better if scribes paid no attention to what they were copying.) You know what, I don't want to know how Greenblatt could have said that.

Speaking of things Greenblatt may or may not have heard of -- Horace, well-known throughout the Middle Ages, was an Epicurean. This significantly undercuts Greenblatt's thesis that Lucretius re-introduced Epicurianism to "the world." Cicero, overly well-known from his day to the present, if you ask me, (I don't like Cicero. Would I like him more if he weren't so ridiculously overpraised in comparison to many other ancient Latin writers? Well, that's an alternate-universe type question which may never be answered, like the one about whether Greenblatt's book might have been better if he had been more personal.) discussed Epicureanism, albeit negatively.

Oh, and just one more thing: on p 111 of Scribes & Scholars by L D Reynolds & N G Wilson, 2nd ed, 1974, it sez:

"Lovato knew Lucretius and Valerius Flaccus a century and a half before they were discovered by Poggio."

Lovato Lovati. 1241-1309.

Just because you never heard of something before you stumble across it doesn't necessarily mean you really discovered it. Boom, I'm out.

Die Kontroverse unter Katholikern ueber den Kelch beim Eucharist

Theologie: die Kunst, jahrtausendelang intensiv, leidenschaftlich, einfallsreich und kontrovers ueber rein gar nichts zu streiten.

Sie treiben es gerade auf meinem Facebook-Newsfeed. Ausloeser: dieser Beitrag auf feinschwarz dot net, THEOLOGISCHEM FEUILLETON, in welchem behauptet wird, dass beim katholischen Eucharist der Kelch nicht mehr dem Priester und einigen wenigen anderen vorbehalten duerfte, "damit wir auch tun, was wir sagen."

"Dies zu problematisieren, mag sich wie eine (liturgie-)theologische Spitzfindigkeit ausnehmen. Was aber, wenn sie das nicht ist?"

-- fragt die Redaktion Feinschwarz. Ach Redaktion, fragen Sie mich bloss nicht, was denn, wenn das! Denn ich weiss gar nicht, was denn, wenn so! Ich merke aber, dass Sie diesen Beitrag mit dem Wort



Und damit bin in diese Kontroverse erst recht fehl am Platz -- es sei denn, Ihr Sinn fuer Humor mir gar nicht subtil genug ist.

Ich moechte sehr gern letzteres glauben. Wirklich sehr. Ich will glauben, dass das mir unsichtbare Augenzwinkern wirklich da irgendwo zwischen den Zeilen eines Beitrags sitzt, der

"den Kelch neu zum Sprechen bringen"


Es geht darum, ob denn beim Eucharist Christ im Brot ganz gegenwaertig ist, oder nicht. Wenn nicht, dann bitte mehr Kelch. Achja aber es gehr (natuerlich) auch um sehr vieles Mehr, um Oekumenisches, um Versoehning mit Protestanten, um den Kelch, den Papst Francis 2015 an die Lutherische Gemeinde von Rom schickte, es geht um die Moeglichkeit, in diesem 500. Verjaehrung von Luthers 95 Thesen, ein

"sprechendes Zeichen"

zu setzen! Es geht verdammt nochmal um die ungeheuerliche Macht und Kraft von Symbolen!

Manche Leute sind mir einfach unmoeglich, und sehr wahrscheinlich ich ebenso ihnen. Was kann ich tun, ausser hoffen, dass es wenigstens einige von ihnen ehrlich Spass macht, und auch dass niemand mehr daruber lebendig zum Tod verbrannt wird.

Alles Kopfschuetteln und Lustigmachen beiste, wenn dieser Beitrag und diese Diskussion um den Kelch dazu leitet, dass irgendwo Katholiker und nicht- netter zueinander werden, dann -- egal, wie mir die Einzelheiten vorkommen -- ist es alles doch gar nicht eitel. Im Gegenteil. In diesem Sinne.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Bush Sr and Jr's New Book

There's a new book out called The Last Republicans, by former Presidents Bush Sr and Jr and some people who interviewed them, and some people are all excited about it because in this book the former Presidents have gone further than they had so far in their public criticism of Trump.

I am not one of those people who is all excited about it.

So Bush Sr has now publicly called Trump a blowhard. Whoop-dee-freakin-do. Like there was someone somewhere on the face of the Earth who didn't already know that Trump was a blowhard. Get back to me when 38 Republican US Representatives and 12 Republican Senators -- current Reps and Senators, not counting the former ones who currently seem much more free to speak their minds -- are publicly calling Trump a lying, law-breaking sack of crap and are in favor of impeaching him and removing him from office. Because 38 GOP Reps and 12 GOP Senators plus 100% of the Democratic Party would be enough to impeach and remove him.

Of course, if Trump is actually still in office after the 2018 mid-term elections, and the Democrats pick up 38 seats in the House and 12 in the Senate, then it won't matter what the remaining Republicans do or say, because the Democrats will then be able to impeach and remove Trump without any Republican support at all.

It makes me very grumpy to think that it might actually take until 2019 before Trump is an ex-President. (The winners of the 2018 mid-terms will be sworn in in January 2019.) 2017 would suit me much better.

The meaning of the title of the new book, the speculation on W's part that Trump might actually be the last Republican President, also doesn't thrill me. Because if that's true it would mean that Trump stayed it office all the way until Inauguration Day 2021. I want to see President Pence or Ryan or Hatch or Tillerson or Mnuchin or what have you, much sooner than 2021.

Unless Trump is still in office after the 2018 midterms, and both he and Pence are thrown out, and the Speaker of the House is a Democrat, then that would, indeed, make Trump the last Republican President, at least for the time being. That wouldn't completely suck.

But surely we can oust him before the midterms. According to Nate Silver, about 38% of the populace approves of Trump's performance as Prez, and 56% disapprove. 56% to 38% in a national election is a huge landslide. We (non-crazy people who want Trump out of our White House pronto) outnumber them (the coalition of the crazy, the stupid and the evil who back Trump) by a huge margin. We need to remind ourselves we greatly outnumber Trump's base, and stop whining about how his base is not shrinking.

That, and vote. We need to vote in every election, for President, Congress, Governor, Mayor, City Council, County Judge, Dog Catcher, etc, etc. That's all we need to do to end this nightmare and embarrassment.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

"Only 4% of the population can answer 75% or more of these questions about Rock n Roll correctly! How many do YOU know?!"

I keep seeing these "Suggested Posts" (advertisements) on Facebook that say something like "Only 4% of the population can answer 75% or more of these questions about [...] correctly! How many do YOU know?!" With questions about Hollywood stars or geography or history or whatever. People I know on Facebook keep clicking on these links, and commenting that they got 90 or 100% and that this means that they are experts on the subject in question.

So does this mean that I know a lot of geniuses on Facebook? On the contrary, unfortunately, it means something quite different: it means that these websites put together a bunch of very easy questions, and then just outright lie about only a small percentage of the population knowing most of the answers -- they just make up a small figure -- and they make these lies into ads on Facebook, enticing people to take the tests in order to be told how smart they are.

What are these sites selling? Ad space. People click on the ads on Facebook, and then click 15 or 30 more times to take the quiz and be flattered about how brilliant they are.

This is to the present day what junk stocks and bonds were to the 1980's. I'll bet that a lot of the very same people who sold junk stocks and bonds back then are running these websites today. And I'm getting pretty tired of it.

Monday, October 30, 2017

American Political Prose

"As the weakness and wants of man naturally lead to an association of individuals, under a common authority whereby each may have the protection of the whole against danger from without, and enjoy in safety within, the advantages of social intercourse, and an exchange of the necessaries & comforts of life: in like manner feeble communities, independent of each other, have resorted to a Union, less intimate, but with common Councils, for the common safety against powerful neighbors, and for the preservation of justice and peace among themselves. Ancient history furnishes examples of these confederal associations, tho' with a very imperfect account, of their structure, and of the attributes and functions of the presiding Authority. There are examples of modern date also, some of them still existing, the modifications and transactions of which are sufficiently known." -- James Madison

"Mr. Clay's eloquence did not consist, as many fine specimens of eloquence do, of types and figures -- of antithesis, and elegant arrangement of words and sentences; but rather of that deeply earnest and impassioned tone, and manner, which can proceed only from great sincerity and a thorough conviction, in the speaker of the justice and importance of his cause. This it is, that truly touches the chords of sympathy; and those who heard Mr. Clay never failed to be moved by it, or ever afterwards, forgot the impression. All his efforts were made for practical effect. He never spoke merely to be heard. He never delivered a Fourth of July oration, or an eulogy on an occasion like this. As a politician or statesman, no one was so habitually careful to avoid all sectional ground. Whatever he did, he did for the whole country. In the construction of his measures he ever carefully surveyed every part of the field, and duly weighed every conflicting interest. Feeling, as he did, and as the truth surely is, that the world's best hope depended on the continued Union of these States, he was ever jealous of, and watchful for, whatever might have the slightest tendency to separate them.

"Mr. Clay's predominant sentiment, from first to last, was a deep devotion to the cause of human liberty -- a strong sympathy with the oppressed everywhere, and an ardent wish for their elevation. With him, this was a primary and all controlling passion. Subsidiary to this was the conduct of his whole life. He loved his country partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country; and he burned with a zeal for its advancement, prosperity and glory, because he saw in such, the advancement, prosperity and glory, of human liberty, human right and human nature. He desired the prosperity of his countrymen partly because they were his countrymen, but chiefly to show to the world that freemen could be prosperous.

"That his views and measures were always the wisest, needs not to be affirmed; nor should it be, on this occasion, where so many, thinking differently, join in doing honor to his memory. A free people, in times of peace and quiet -- when pressed by no common danger -- naturally divide into parties. At such times the man who is of neither party, is not -- cannot be, of any consequence. Mr. Clay, therefore, was of a party. Taking a prominent part, as he did, in all the great political questions of his country for the last half century, the wisdom of his course on many, is doubted and denied by a large portion of his countrymen; and of such it is not now proper to speak particularly. But there are many others, about his course upon which, there is little or no disagreement amongst intelligent and patriotic Americans. Of these last are the War of 1812, the Missouri question, Nullification, and the now recent compromise measures. In 1812 Mr. Clay, though not unknown, was still a young man. Whether we should go to war with Great Britain, being the question of the day, a minority opposed the declaration of war by Congress, while the majority, though apparently inclining to war, had, for years, wavered, and hesitated to act decisively. Meanwhile British aggressions multiplied, and grew more daring and aggravated. By Mr. Clay, more than any other man, the struggle was brought to a decision in Congress. The question, being now fully before congress, came up, in a variety of ways, in rapid succession, on most of which occasions Mr. Clay spoke. Adding to all the logic, of which the subject was susceptible, that noble inspiration, which came to him as it came to no other, he aroused, and nerved, and inspired his friends, and confounded and bore-down all opposition. Several of his speeches, on these occasions, were reported, and are still extant; but the best of these all never was. During its delivery the reporters forgot their vocations, dropped their pens, and sat enchanted from near the beginning to quite the close. The speech now lives only in the memory of a few old men; and the enthusiasm with which they cherish their recollection of it is absolutely astonishing. The precise language of this speech we shall never know; but we do know -- we cannot help knowing -- that, with deep pathos, it pleaded the cause of the injured sailor -- that it invoked the genius of the revolution -- that it apostrophised the names of Otis, of Henry and of Washington -- that it appealed to the interest, the pride, the honor and the glory of the nation -- that it shamed and taunted the timidity of friends -- that it scorned, and scouted, and withered the temerity of domestic foes -- that it bearded and defied the British Lion -- and rising, and swelling, and maddening in its course, it sounded the onset, till the charge, the shock, the steady struggle, and the glorious victory, all passed in vivid review before the entranced hearers." -- Abraham Lincoln

"A while back, I met a young man named Shamus at the VFW Hall in East Moline, Illinois. He was a good-looking kid, six-two or six-three, clear eyed, with an easy smile. He told me he’d joined the Marines and was heading to Iraq the following week. As I listened to him explain why he’d enlisted, his absolute faith in our country and its leaders, his devotion to duty and service, I thought this young man was all any of us might hope for in a child. But then I asked myself: Are we serving Shamus as well as he was serving us? I thought of more than 900 service men and women, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors, who will not be returning to their hometowns. I thought of families I had met who were struggling to get by without a loved one’s full income, or whose loved ones had returned with a limb missing or with nerves shattered, but who still lacked long-term health benefits because they were reservists. When we send our young men and women into harm’s way, we have a solemn obligation not to fudge the numbers or shade the truth about why they’re going, to care for their families while they’re gone, to tend to the soldiers upon their return, and to never ever go to war without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world.

"Now let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued and they must be defeated. John Kerry knows this. And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure. John Kerry believes in America. And he knows it’s not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga.

"A belief that we are connected as one people. If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother. If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief—I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper—that makes this country work. It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. “E pluribus unum.” Out of many, one.

"Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes. Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America—there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America. The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States. There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America." -- Barack Obama

"Obama is, without question, the WORST EVER president. I predict he will now do something really bad and totally stupid to show manhood! [...] I have never seen a thin person drinking Diet Coke. [...] Everyone knows I am right that Robert Pattinson should dump Kristen Stewart. In a couple of years, he will thank me. Be smart, Robert. [...] Wind turbines are ripping your country apart and killing tourism.Electric bills in Scotland are skyrocketing-stop the madness [...] Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my "wires tapped" in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism! [...] Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus????? ...Also, there is NO COLLUSION!" -- Donald Trump

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Sexual Assault and Power

Women have come forward alleging that political journalist Mark Halperin sexually harassed and assaulted them.

It has been said many times that sexual harassment has more to do with power than with sexuality. Our Pussy Grabber-in-Chief has claimed, "When you're a star, they let you do it." Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly and Harvey Weinstein all used the control they wielded over women's careers to help them get away with all sorts of disgusting behavior. And that it has been considered disgusting rather than criminal, that they may have lost their jobs over over but not yet gone to jail -- that may have a lot to do with these men's power too.

And now Mark Halperin faces a dozen or more accusers. Halperin was not only a boss with power over female employees, power which he abused, he also seems particularly obsessed with the topic of power, and with having his own power acknowledged. Back in 2002, he started publishing The Note, a daily column which, although it has always been publicly posted on the ABC News website, seemed to be written by Halprin in a way which was intentionally difficult for non-"insiders" to understand. (Halperin has sinced moved on from ABC, but The Note remains there, written much less cryptically by others.) Halperin addressed The Note to the people he called the Gang of 500: the 500 most powerful people in Washington (according to Halprin). Mary Matalin has called Halperin "the insider's insider's insider." And his case makes me ask myself: what is power?

It seems to me that the power of individual people is a subjective thing. The more power people think you have -- the more power you have. To some extent, that is. You may be considered a powerful person by some, and not by others. I'm not a particularly big fan of John Prine, but one line in his song "That's The Way That The World Goes 'Round" has really stuck with me and given me food for thought, for decades. It's about a fellow whom Prine clearly dislikes quite a deal. Prine sings:

"He thinks he owns half of this town"

Back in the early 80's, that one line in a song I haven't felt the need to hear again told me that things like power are not as clear-cut as they seem to some people.

For one thing: is being a powerful player in Washington politics anything to be proud of, at the moment? Are the Gang of 500, including people designated by Halperin as SPIP (the smartest person in politics) and SSPIP (the 2nd-smartest person in politics) really worth all that much if all 500 of them together couldn't prevent the Trump Presidency? Is this the sort of thing which people who claim to be geniuses with vast influence want to take credit for?

For another thing: what is more powerful, being able to force yourself sexually on someone who doesn't want to be with you and get away with it, or having the ability to make someone want to be with you?

Does power make a man more attractive, as we so often hear from powerful men, or does it allow unattractive men to stay in denial about how unattractive they are, and in denial about certain powers which they have never had, powers which some other people have, who have been poor all their lives?

Do "insiders" really have the ability to accomplish amazing things? Or do they just have a mechanism to distract themselves from some deep inner insecurity, such as, for example, a fear that other people think they are anything but remarkable or amazing?

Think about Trump, Ailes, O'Reilley, Weinstein and Halperin. What have they done with their power? Do they and did they deserve it, is it and was it power well-spent? Of course not. Are we just going to let very similar monsters and mediocrities into the positions they vacate?

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Great Big Fat Guy, Day 723

I look a lot more like Harvey Weinstein than I used to. Maybe more in the face than all-over. I'm still doing crunches and push-ups and stretching and cardio. Does Harvey work out? I have no idea. Maybe he does. Just a second [...] Okay, I could only find 1 photo on Google that gives you any idea of what shape he's in, and in that photo he doesn't look like someone who does crunches and pushups and stretching and cardio. Then again, it's only one photo. He's 65 years old, I'm 56.

I just don't want to go around reminding people of Harvey Weinstein because of my appearance. I guess seeing all of those pictures of him and noticing the resemblance has given me a bit of a kick in the pants about exercise.

I was going to get a haircut today, but I've changed my mind. For the past few years my hair has mainly been between short and extremely short. Lately I've been thinking about letting my hair grow longer. Today would've been about time for my normally-scheduled haircut, either a fade or a buzz-cut every 2 or 3 months, but then I decided to let it grow. I thought about an incident in the mid-90's, when I was working in the house crew at an Off-Broadway theatre, and I got my hair cut from rather long -- over the collar, at least -- to pretty short. Most of the comments I got about the haircut were positive -- in fact, maybe every reaction was positive except one: a woman who also worked in the house crew, and who was usually fairly reserved and quiet around me, shouted "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!" the instant she saw me with the short haircut. So yeah, remembering that was what tipped the scales in favor of letting my hair grow today. Her reaction was the only negative one voiced to me about the haircut, but it also seemed like the only one which couldn't possibly have been insincere or pro-forma and basically indifferent. It seems that she had liked my hair when it was long.

Maybe that woman's taste in haircuts has changed over the past 21 years and now she prefers it high and tight. Who knows.

I don't look like I did 21 years ago, and my hair looks different too, a lot of it is grey now, but I'm 56 and I've got a lot of hair left, probably more than most guys my age, and I don't know how long I'll still have a lot of hair.

One reason for the short hair lately is that since 2008, I have a bathtub where I live, but no shower. It would be much easier to wash longer hair in a shower. In 2008 my brother and his girlfriend brought the materials needed to add a shower to my bathtub and said they'd helped me install it, but they didn't get around to it. The stuff is still here. I'm not what you'd call handy. On the other hand, I've read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I don't see how I could afford to hire someone to do the conversion for me. I wonder what my brother would do if I asked him for help with this. Maybe point out that he's not significantly more handy than I am. Well, a journey of a thousand mustard seeds begins with but a single step of sand.

I don't know whether I'll install a shower today. I doubt it. I mean, if I do that today I will totally surprise and impress myself. But it couldn't hurt to keep thinking about being able to shower in my home. Thinking, as you may know if you've thought about it, can lead to all sorts of things: ideas, plans, insights, blog posts, marriage to wealthy women who have showers in their bathrooms at home, healthier choices about diet and exercise, what have you.

Okay, Katy, get us out of here!

Friday, October 20, 2017

How to Write

1. Find a smooth and empty surface such as the pages of a new notebook, or one of those empty rectangles on the Internet, or a wall of polished marble, or a volleyball, etc.

2. Find something suitable for making marks on that empty surface, such as a pen or pencil, or a computer keyboard, or a hammer and chisel, or a magic marker or whatever.

3. Scribble and scribble and scribble on that empty surface until you are very tired.

4. Play with cats to help you cope with the heavy workload and restore your energy.

5. The next day, and the day after that, and the day after that and so forth, repeat steps 1 through 4.

6. Repeat step 5 until you are rich and famous. (If you actually enjoy writing or otherwise feel somehow compelled to do it, you may continue writing even after this point.)

There are billions and billions of books which claim to tell you how to write, but what they actually attempt to tell you -- or what they claim to attempt to tell you in the cases where their authors don't actually care about you or your writing career and just want to sell books by exploiting your hopes and dreams, which might actually be almost all the cases -- is how to write well.

The thing is, people almost never agree about who writes well and who doesn't, which makes even those books written by people who actually care, worthless -- with one exception:

How to Write, by Gertrude Stein. This book is exceptional quite simply because, as everyone who has ever been anyone heartily agrees, Ms Stein wrote exceptionally well. Sistah came from Oakland back when there was no there there, and didn't play. Anyone who says she didn't write exceptionally well is probably either an innocent oaf or a very bad person who perhaps will try to sell you a worthless book or swampland in Florida. Watch out for the bad ones, and warn everyone you know, and strangers too!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris.

"Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris."

That's Latin for "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's in the Bible no less than 3 times: Tobit 4:15, Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31. And it's also pretty similar to Leviticus 19:18.

And the same basic idea is also to be found in ancient texts from China, India, Persia and pre-Christian Egypt and Greece.

So what, basically, is my problem? Just this: although it's a pretty good rule, it can be improved upon. Because not everyone wants and dislikes the same sorts of treatment. "Do unto others as they would have you do unto them" is an improvement over "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." It's more considerate, more sensitive.

But, of course, even that is not perfect, because life is not perfect. A crazed person who is committing mass murder with an automatic weapon may want to be allowed to continue doing what he's doing. But most of us would agree that it's better to stop him. That's just one extreme example of situations where we generally agree that it's right to stop someone, even though that's not what he wants.

Germans, who love to rhyme like nobody's business, have put it into a rhyme:

"Was du nicht willst, dass man dir tu, das füg auch keinem andern zu."

Just now, on Facebook, some German-speaking people were all agreeing with each other about how perfect the Golden Rule -- or, in German, "die Goldene Regel" -- is. I started to write a comment in German, to say to them that I felt that it was not perfect, for the reason I have expressed above.

But then I stopped and considered that, although I would like it when someone would comment in such a way in such a conversation, many people definitely do not like it at all, and that these particular people probably wouldn't like it. And so, instead of doing unto them as I would have others do unto me, I did unto them as I thought they would like me to do unto them, and erased my comment and just left them alone, and instead, I came here and wrote this blog post.

Well, I didn't leave them completely alone: I left a comment which consisted of "Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris." I hope that didn't bother them.

Why Latin? Because I like Latin and would like to see it restored to its former prominence. Not because I have any reason to believe that there is something characteristically Latin or Roman about "Quod tibi fieri non vis, alteri ne feceris."

Friday, October 13, 2017


"Theorie -- von dem Wort ging seit den sechziger Jahren ein magisches Leuchten aus. Theorie war ein Glaubensartikel, eine Wahrheitsmaschine und ein Lebensstil. Doch woher kam die Faszination für die gefährlichen Gedanken? Philipp Felsch folgt in seinem grandios geschriebenen Buch den Hoffnungen und Irrwegen einer Generation, die sich in den Dschungel der schwierigen Texte begab. Für drei Jahrzehnte gehörte der Theorieband als Vademekum in jede Manteltasche. Es war die Zeit der apokalyptischen Meisterdenker, der glamourösen Unverständlichkeit und der umstürzenden Lektüreerlebnisse. In einer Welt, die im Kalten Krieg erstarrte, ging nur von großen Ideen Bewegung aus. Je schwieriger die Texte, desto intensiver die Lektüre, je abstrakter die Argumente, desto relevanter für die Wirklichkeit. Heute, wo die intellektuellen Energien von '68 in schwach glimmende Substanzen zerfallen sind und viele der einstigen Akteure ihre Memoiren geschrieben haben, ist es Zeit zurückzublicken: Was war Theorie? In West-Berlin versorgte der Merve Verlag die Leser von den Kadern der Studentenbewegung über Spontis und Punks bis zu den Avantgarden des Kunstbetriebs mit ihrer Ration von wildem Denken.
Philipp Felsch schreibt die Geschichte einer geistigen Revolte, indem er den Abenteuern der Büchermacher und ihres Umfelds folgt. Vor allem aber vertraut er sich der Geschichte ihrer Leser an, um eine Epoche wiederauferstehen zu lassen, in der das Denken noch geholfen hat."

Von dem Klappentext aus zu beurteilen (Ich weiss, man sollte das nie tun aber) waere mir das Buch ein wenig zu grossenwahnsinnig. Aber das kann durchaus an mir liegen und vielleicht weiss ich immer noch ueberhaupt nicht, was man mit "Theorie" alles sagen will. Ich sehe (bzw sah) das alles ja von Tausenden von Kilometern weg und lese es in meiner zweiten Sprache. Oder in meiner dritten Sprache wenn es auf Franzoesisch geschrieben ist.

Oder es kann der Wut des Kalibans sein, der hier mich zu schaffen geht, und der Abscheu von meiner eigenen haesslichen dummen Grandiositaet, der Scham vor Erinnerung an einigen albern-grandiosen Augenblicke meiner Vergangenheit, und beileibe nicht alle nur meiner Jugend...

Auch erinnert mich der Klappentext stark on Susan Sontag. O waere das herb, waere das bitter, wenn die Wahrheit ist, dass ich Sontag sehr aehnlich bin!

In der Tat (falls wirklich da recht hat) habe ich nicht verstanden, worum es in dem Buch von Philipp Felsch geht:

"Adorno, Foucault, Lyotard, Baudrillard, de Certeau, über Luhmann, Sloterdijk, Benjamin, Barthes, Bohrer[...]"


Ich habe mit alledem kein Problem. In Gegenteil, solches lese ich gern.


Obwohl ich immer noch nicht weiss, was ich von diesem Prof Dr Philipp Felsch halten sollte. Obwohl ich Adorno usw gern lese, nicht mal ein Adorno kann die eigenen Fans auswaehlen.

Aber es kann (zum wiederholten Male) sein, dass es falsch waere, diesen Author nach seinem Klappentext-Author zu beurteilen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Morons: Let's Unite Against Trump!

If you're like me -- a moron whose feelings were hurt by Secretary Tillerson's recent outburst -- then maybe together we can turn a negative incident into the rallying cry for a movement: the movement of morons united against Trump!

-- If, like me, you were hurt by the suggestion that you're somehow similar to Donald Trump just because you're a moron;

-- If you're tired of people assuming, just because you're a moron, that you support Trump, or that you somehow can't see through Trump's nonsense;

-- If you find it insulting that people think, just because you're a moron, that that means that maybe you think that global warming is a Chinese hoax, or that the US needs 10 times more nuclear weapons;

-- If you are often confused by machines like TV remotes or microwave ovens or can openers;

-- If you have accidentally hit yourself with a hammer or accidentally buried your own face in dirt within the last week;

... Ummm ...

... Okay, okay -- if you're like that, and stuff, then join with me! I'm proud to be a moron who sees right through Trump! If you are too, then send a link to this post to every moron you know! Together we can save the world against coal and nuclear weapons and horrible orange fake tans! Ummm... okay -- together we can get the Republicans to remove him from office and to stand up to Steve Bannon! No, this doesn't mean that suddenly Republicans will be cool, but they're go back to being the normal sort of Republican jerks we're used to instead of this nightmare! It's a nightmare for them too, that's obvious! Every now and then the nightmare becomes too much for one of them and they call Trump a moron or something, and our feelings are hurt, we morons.

But even we morons know that there's only one thing you have to do to make a nightmare stop: WAKE UP!!!! Together, maybe we morons can convince Republicans to act as if they weren't zombies, and stuff!

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Tillerson Owes Us an Apology!

As a moron, I was deeply offended and hurt when I learned that the Secretary of State called Trump a moron. I don't want to go around complaining all the time, but when you look at it objectively, we morons have a hard time now and then, trying to keep up with people who are... you know -- smart, and stuff, and we don't need additional insults like being lumped in together with the President of the United States, as if we were no more intelligent or perceptive than he is.

I know a lot of morons. Some of my closest friends and relatives are morons, it's not just me. I think I speak for morons everywhere when I say that I think that Rex Tillerson owes us all an apology, and stuff. Just now I accidentally hit myself in the hand with a hammer, and that made me fall off a ladder, and I landed flat on my back on the floor, which was flooded with water and stuff. And then a flower pot fell off of a shelf right onto my face and shattered. So I was lying there, in great physical pain, and all wet, and with my face buried in dirt. But what made me finally start to cry, lying there, was that I remembered what Tillerson said.

And that's when I decided to write this post, because I think this is really important, and stuff.

It hurts us morons enough when people claim that the people who voted for Trump are morons. But this time, Tillerson just simply went too far, and stuff.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Tom Petty

Irony: a FB user claims that it's Tom Petty's fault that his father was an alcoholic and drug addict; and that same FB user has a cover photo with the words "MY DESTINY IS MY OWN!" Yes, folks, that's irony. Unintentional irony.

30 years ago or so, Tom Petty described one of the fundamental ironies of life in this land: when you get rich and famous, all of a sudden you get lots of stuff for free, which you could easily buy now, and which you badly needed back when you couldn't afford it.

Petty was very intelligent, very perceptive, very sensitive to the plight of the poor and abused. A lot of that intelligence went into his lyrics. He also was very talented musically. This combination made for songs which touched people. Those songs made us feel as if we knew him personally. We didn't know him, but if felt as if we did. He wasn't that FB user's father, but it felt as if he was. So a lot of us feel today as if we've lost a good friend, or a father or brother or cousin.

So maybe cut us a little bit of slack for a change.

Petty was born in Gainesville, Florida, in 1950, was inspired to be a musician by Elvis and the Beatles, dropped out of high school shortly before graduation to concentrate full-time on playing in a band, and BAM! just like that, 11 or 12 years later, suddenly he could afford to buy all the Nike shoes he wanted, and he didn't even have to anymore.

It's not just millions of us listeners who have been blown away by his single "Free Fallin'" -- Petty himself said he was amazed when the song came out of him. He said it was like a bolt of lightning which came from nowhere.

Of course, it came from the same place as all of the other great songs which Petty wrote or co-wrote. Still, it just goes to show that if you work very hard for decades at something you care about, you might have moments where what you produce is so good that it even surprises you.

Not to step on yr shoes if yr favorite Tom Petty recording is something other than "Free Fallin'". There are many, many great Tom Petty recordings. I'm going to stop now. RIP, Mr Petty. And thanks.

Monday, October 2, 2017

My Response to the NFL Players Who are Kneeling During the National Anthem

Let's join them. The NBA pre-season is just getting started, and to my surprise, the NBA actually has a rule requiring all players to stand during the national anthem.

I dislike that rule. I'm with the late Molly Ivins, who said,

"I prefer someone who burns the flag and them wraps themselves up in the Constitution over someone who burns the Constitution and then wraps themselves up in the flag."

I didn't know the NBA had such a rule. I think it's a restriction of free expression which violates the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. I hope NBA players start taking a knee during the national anthem -- for all of the reasons for which NFL players are kneeling, but also to protest the league's violation of their 1st Amendment rights.

Another thing I'd like to see is singers who've been invited to sing the national anthem during sporting events taking a knee when the music starts (if there is backing music), and not singing.

There's no reason why fans can't kneel along with the players. For some reason, fans booing and complaining about the protest -- and burning team jerseys and spitting on players who kneel -- are getting most of the headlines about fan reaction, but the truth is that many fans have expressed support of the players' right to free expression, with many also expressing support of the protest. And some people have decided to watch football games for the first time in their lives! Where are all the headlines about them? Those who support the protest can express it even more clearly, if they happen to be at one of the games, by kneeling and being silent as well.

And sports journalists who respect everyone's 1st Amendment rights can give some air time to fans who aren't fascist yahoos.

And there's no reason why solidarity with the protesting athletes has to be confined to sporting events. Schoolchildren could kneel and be silent as the pledge is recited in their classrooms.

And Congresspeople and Senators could kneel and be silent when the pledge is recited on Capitol Hill.

And those who feel that the President of the United States should defend people's 1st Amendment rights, and not call for them to be fired for exercising them -- after all, he did taken an oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" -- should add that to the long, long list of reasons why Trump should be removed from office as soon as possible, whether by impeachment and trial in Congress, or by implementing the 25th Amendment.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Church of the Brethren

I was born in 1961, and I grew up in a small, conservative town in rural Indiana. First thing in the morning in every classroom in our school, everyone would stand up and recite the Pledge of Allegiance.

That is, almost everyone. At the time -- I'm an atheist now -- my family's religion, the Church of the Brethren, part of an offshot of Lutheranism known as Pietism, said that we weren't supposed to carry guns, not even if we were drafted into the military. The Bible says that Jesus told his followers to turn the other cheek. In the Church of the Brethren, we interpreted this as an instruction to be strictly pacifistic. And we weren't supposed to swear on a Bible, not even if we were witnesses in court.

And our denomination also said that we weren't supposed to sing the Star-Spangled Banner or recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Nor were we supposed to rise to our feet while others did so. So every day at school, first thing in the morning, everybody else in my classroom rose to their feet and recited the Pledge of Allegiance, while I stayed seated and said nothing. At sporting events, almost everyone sang the national anthem, but those who attended our church stayed seated and didn't sing. If we had to testify in court, we didn't swear to tell the truth, and we didn't touch the Bible. We simply promised to tell the truth.

The thing is, I don't remember anyone ever giving me a hard time about any of this. Sometimes people were curious and asked me why I did this or that differently, and we talked about. But I never got into an argument with anyone about: I expalined how we did things in our church, and that was fine with them. No one ever called me a son of a bitch over it. No one ever stood outside of our little white-painted church carrying picket signs. No one ever called us un-American. We weren't jailed for contempt of court because we behaved differently in court. In the earliest days of the US, people of our denomination sometimes got into trouble for being conscientious objectors to military service, but by the early 19th century, that got straightened out too: we had explained the reasons for our behavior to the United States, and the United States has accepted those reasons ever since, and instead of joining the military, young men from our church would work in military hospitals or do construction work in postwar areas which needed to be rebuilt.

People listened to the reasons for our behavior and accepted them. And conversely, we never accused others of being wicked or un-Christian, because they had different beliefs and did a few things differently than we did. Because when you get right down to cases, very few people are as bigoted, unreasonable or downright dense as our current President.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Some Surprising Things About Certain Watches

Let's start with the Swiss luxury watchmaker Bovet, which manufactures a variety of watches which can be converted from wristwatches with leather straps to tabletop clocks to pocket watches on chains, and back again to the wristwatches,

all in a matter of seconds, with no tools, easy as can be, just by pushing some buttons and pulling some levers. These watches by Bovet are interesting to me because I like pocket watches, and the world is not exactly swimming in new high-quality pocket watches these days. (New cheap crap pocket watches: there you got more to choose from. I think maybe because of steampunk, but I'm not sure. How much do I know about steampunk? If I weren't into pocket watches, I might still have never even heard the word "steampunk," that's how much.)

If I had one of these Bovets, maybe I would be surprised to learn that I actually occasionally preferred to use the wristwatch- or tabletop clock-configuration. But it would be a surprise if I ever owned a Bovet, because the only ones I've eve seen cost 5 or 6 figures.

I've finally broken free of The Watch Snob's disdain for watches from Panerai, and allowed myself to covet them unreservedly, although I can't afford them either. Today I came across a review of the Panerai PAM 560,

And was quite surprised to see that this beautiful thing, with a MSRP closer to 10 grand than 5, doesn't have a second hand.

Then I looked at pictures of a lot of Panerais and was surprised to see that many of them have no second hands.

Then I thought about that for a while, and had to come to the surprising conclusion -- surprising to me. It may not surprise you at all -- that many very expensive watches from some of the most top-end of top-end brands don't have second hands. For example, take another look at that Bovet higher up on the page: do you see a second hand anywhere? I don't. I see an hour hand and a minute hand, are they're both on a very tiny dial. It seems that with this model, Bovet's biggest concern about the dial was that it not interfere with looking at the movement -- what you and I might be more accustomed to referring to as "the guts." And the guts are lovely to look at, no doubt.

Something that surprises me even more about that Panerai: it's got an 8-day power reserve, but no power reserve indicator. I've seen pictures of the back of the watch, it's not there either. This is a hand-wind watch, not an automatic -- is the owner supposed to remember how many days ago he or she wound it?

That Bovet, with the tiny dial and no second hand: I'm sure it's accurate to within a few seconds a months, that's what that pretty movement is there for. But it's seems to me that you'd have to own it for a year or so, and pay very close attention, to know for sure if it really was that accurate. But many of us have to re-set our watches every 6 months to change between Standard Time and Daylight Savings Time -- clearly, some people are prepared to pay huge amounts of money for watches, huge in part because they are extremely high-accuracy and high-precision instruments, and are content not to be able to check that accuracy.

Well, glass houses and stones: there's no need to have any kind of watch at all these days.

Now we come to a watch which I could actually afford, if I saved up for a while: the Swatch Sistem51 Irony:

Swatch is the Swiss watch brand known for making inexpensive and disposable quartz watches with plastic cases. Disposable, because the plastic cases are sealed shut so they can't be opened up for repairs.

A few years ago, Swatch introduced the Sistem51, a mechanical watch. I first heard about the Sistem51 a couple of days ago. 51 is the number of parts in the watch, a very low number of parts. Some very expensive watches (see for example Bovet, above) have as many parts as possible, are complicated for the sake of being complicated. Indeed, the French word "Complication" is part of the name of some of the most expensive watches offered by various companies. But you can go the other way, too, and see how much a watch can do with how few parts. The Seiko 5, for example, has become a legend because of its simple, and tremendously reliable, design. I've been trying to find out exactly how many parts a Seiko 5 has. I'm sure various models of the 5 have different numbers of parts. I'm pretty sure none has as few as 51.

The first Swatch51's came with plastic cases which were sealed shut: not made to be repaired, just like other products from Swatch. But then I learned to my surprise about the Sistem51 Irony, released just a couple of years ago: these are watches with metal cases which open up for maintenance. Swatch is making concessions to watch fanciers who like permanence.

At first I thought they were called Irony because it was ironic that Swatch was going in this direction. But having thought about it some more, I'm now almost entirely sure that it's because, instead of the usual Swatch plastic cases, the Ironies have metal cases. Steel cases. Steel with iron in it. Huh? Get it? Iron. The cases are iron-y. Iron-y -- huh?! Huh?! Get it?

I'm mostly interested in the Sistem51 Irony at this point because some people who seem to know watches well seem tremendously excited about it. It's like smoke and fire: their excitement is there, like smoke, which means that maybe someday I, too, will be excited about it -- like catching fire. There is a lot of excitement about the fact that the Sistem51 is entirely assembled by robots. I was surprised to learn that it is (or was? I don't know) the very first watch with no hand-assembly. Experts seem to regard the Sistem512 design as revolutionary. They think it could lead to huge, huge steps forward in watch design. (Has it already? I don't know.)

So, okay, I'll keep an eye on it.

I've read two different head-to-head reviews comparing the Swatch Sistem51 Irony to the Seiko 5. They're both about the same price. The Irony is slightly more expensive. Both reviews concluded that the Seiko 5, generally regarded as the best deal in the world of watches, is slightly better than the Irony -- but only slightly. They both suggested that if a person was really into watches and wanted to have more than one, but was poor, they might want both the Seiko 5 and the Irony.

I'm not going to get an Irony right away. Unless someone gives one to me.