Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dream Log: Physics and Disapproval

I dreamed that my brother was living with some fanatical Christians. They may have been his father- and mother-in-law, but I don't remember meeting his bride. Their home, a large apartment on a high floor of a drab brick building among high drab brick buildings, had the look of guilty religious conformity. Even the benches on either side of one long narrow table looked like church pews.

I had brought with me an armload of books, mostly books on topics of physics and math published by Dover, such as this one:

My brother had some Dover books on related topics, and he seemed to deliberately be mixing up his Dover books with mine. I kept trying to separate them again, and I asked myself in vain why I had brought so many books with me to begin with. It wasn't as if I was going to teach my brother anything about such things. He's an accomplished mechanical engineer, his knowledge of physics and advanced math is far ahead of mine. And I also wasn't intending to give him any of the books or loan any of them to him. And I felt sure that my brother knew all of this. I wondered whether he was teasing me by mixing up his books with mine.

I scrambled around, trying to make sure that I had all of my books and none of my brother's, getting ready to flee this place. I asked myself why I hadn't carried the books in a backpack, or at least in a box: there were too many of them to comfortably carry in my arms.

My brother's mother-in-law (I presumed) was darting around and loudly disapproving of me and my scientific outlook. Then she spotted, among my books, this one --

-- which may well have been the only book ever written by a communist, small- or capital-c, whose title or author she would've recognized -- and she became louder and more agitated still, screeching, "He's communistic! He's communistic!"

For a moment I thought of correcting her, telling her that the correct adjective was "communist," or, even better, she could use the noun form and say that I was a communist. But immediately I asked myself what good that could do. It was about then that I woke up.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017


John Irving went a long way out of his way, in his novel The World According to Garp, to diss the Austrain writer Franz Grillparzer, 1792-1872, remembered today for dramas such as Das goldene Vlies. Actually, in den US today he's probably most famous for being the first famous writer better than whom the fictional novelist Garp, a thinly-disguised version of John Irving, was certain he could write. This was supposedly an important milestone in any developing writer's life: finding a writer to whom one feels superior -- as a writer, at least.

I don't know whether or not that makes any sense: that you have to find some famous writer whom you are certain you can outwrite in order to become a successful writer. Perhaps it makes sense only for kinds of writers I was never interested in being. I'm not sure whether anything that John Irving has ever asserted makes much sense for people like me: the implication that he is a better writer than Grillparzer is really rather silly; the implication that he even deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as someone like Grillparzer is rather silly. The assertion by Irving that he has read anything by Grillparzer in German and understood it strains my credulity. I think Irving thinks that the name Grillparzer sounds silly, and that that is about the extent of what Irving has to say about Grillparzer. Or consider the advice he gave at a writer's conference for dealing with writer's block. He called it the constipation method: wait as long as you possibly can, and then run to the typewriter. I am certain that another writer's retort was much wittier than anything Irving has ever written: she asked, what if you don't make it to the typewriter in time? I'm sorry that I don't remember her name.

I was sure, as a young squirt reading The World According to Garp, that I could outwrite Irving, but I already knew by then that I could outwrite many -- no, most writers of bestsellers: Crichton, Ludlum, Richard Adams (Author of Watership Down), Peter Benchley, son of Robert, author of Jaws, and so forth. That I could add one more to that list, Irving, who managed to fool some people for some time into thinking he was the sort of author who deserved awards, was no big deal.

The big deal was discovering writers like Gaddis, Gass, John Hawkes, Robert Musil, Pynchon, Yeats, Doeblin, writers who really challenged me and continue to do so, and learning how close to unknown some of them were during their lifetimes, and how far most of them were from bestseller lists for most or all of their lives.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Materials of Which Watch Cases Can Be Made

* Stainless steel. Seems that everywhere I turn, people who write about watches are writing enthusiastically about stainless steel watches. I haven't been watching the world of watches very long, and I don't know what they were writing not long ago, but I clearly gather that stainless steel is being treated as the New Cool Thing. Whether this reflects an actual change in taste among people who used to buy gold or platinum watches, and still could afford to, but now have decided that it's more tasteful to be less ostentatious in their choice of wristwear; or whether those tastes haven't changed at all among those who can afford any watches they want, and what has changed is the approach of those writing, who have decided to try to reach more readers buy writing about watches more people can afford; or if the answer is some Door #3 which hasn't occurred to me, I don't know.

On the one hand, I have a stainless steel watch:

and am therefore unintentionally stylish at the moment. On the other hand, I not only didn't intend to be trendy when I got my Seiko 5 (there are any like it, but this one is mine), I really don't care about being trendy. I refer you to Thorstein Veblen.

* Brass. Boring. And high-maintenance unless you want it to look as dull as dirt or plate it with gold or nickel or something.

* Silver. I don't know any thing interesting to tell you about silver watches cases.

* Titanium. It doesn't move me. Sorry.

* Tantalum. I wrote a whole post about that one.

* Gold. It costs about 2/3 as much per ounce as it did in 2011, and that fall in the price of the metal has definitely been accompanied by a steep drop in the prices of gold watches. Perhaps the snooty exclusive rich class really has taken a recent like to stainless steel watches, and maybe part of the reason for that is that suddenly, many more people could afford gold watches, making them suddenly much less fun for the snooty exclusive rich class.

* Platinum. Everything I just speculated about gold except more so, because in the past few years the price of the metal has fallen even more sharply than that of gold.

I wish I had a watch made of gold, or, even better and even more expensive, platinum. And I really don't care what snooty exclusive rich people think of that. And I don't care that some of them will be convinced that I'm lying when I say I don't care, and that I want a watch like that for completely other reasons than any having to do with their exclusive hamster wheels. They are hamsters, those snooty people. Hamsters on exclusive wheels. Veblen. He covered all this.

* Sapphire. Yes, sapphire. If you're like I was recently, you didn't realize that sapphires aren't always blue, and that synthetic transparent sapphire is used instead of glass these days for the crystals of high-end watches. It's much tougher than glass. At least one watch company, Hublot, has made entire cases from sapphire for certain models.

Which I happen to think is wicked cool, and I don't care if the Watch Snob thinks everything Hublot does is horribly tacky, this isn't the first thing Hublot has done which I like very, very much. (For example: the watch in that picture has a 40-day power reserve. As far as I know, that's the 2nd all-time longest power reserve for a watch, behind that other Hublot with a 50 day power reserve which is also available in a variety of case materials including sapphire.)

The Watch Snob wrote in one of his columns that he guaranteed that Hublot would be out of business by the time he turned 40, which makes me wish I knew when he wrote that and how old he was then. We'll see what we see about what kind of shape Hublot is in as a company.

* Wood. Today, not in the 16th century when one might be more inclined to forgive a watchmaker for not knowing any better, but today, some watches are made with not only their cases but also quite a few of their moving parts made from wood. This makes me feel perhaps somewhat the way the Watch Snob feels about Hublot. I feel that wooden watches are wrong. I feel that it's wrong for people to buy wooden watches, as that will only tend to encourage them to make more of them. I don't feel inclined to discuss it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jemand fragte, wie gute Literatur ihre Leser findet.

Wenn ich ueberhaupt eine Ahnung davon haette, wie gute Literatur ihre Leser findet, waere ich langst reich und bereuhmt und nobelgekroent und wuerde noch andere gute Schriftsteller helfen, alle die schiere Scheisse auf den Bestsellern beiseite zu schieben und verdientvollerweise reich und beruehmt zu werden, und wir waeren oft auf Fernsehen, mal, um die Talkshows viel interessanter zu machen, mal, um als Weise die Leute dieses seltsamen Planeten guten Rat zu geben.

Vielleicht wuerde ich ein Haus in Suedkalifornien haben, nahe genug Conans Studio dass ich bequem von daheim dorthin zu Fuss gehen koennte; und eine Wohnung in New York, vielleicht in New York by Gehry;

und eine in Berlin, und eine in Paris -- oder vielleicht wuerde ich lieber in Hotels wohnen, als viele Wohnungen selbst besitzen. Wuerde ich gern per Flugzeug reisen, wenn ich es stets in der Luxury-Klasse taete? Ich weiss es nicht. Ich flog einmal in First Class, aber ich weiss nicht, ob diese First Class wirklich Luxury-Klasse war. Wenn es wirklich war, wenn es kaum besser als das gibt ohne ein eigenes Flugzeug zu besitzen, dann waere es offiziell: ich moechte fliegen nicht sehr. Ich glaube, dass es etwas luxurioeser geht als auf der First Klasse, welche ich erlebte. Aber ich weiss nicht, ob es irgendwo so gut fliegt dass ich es geniessen wuerde.

Ich haette vielleicht sovielen Einfluss, dass ich hoechstpersoenlich die Eroelbranche vernichte koennte, indem ich fuer Solar und Wind und Gezeitenkraft und Geothermisch und so fort redete.

Moechte ich US-Praesident werden? Ich weiss es nicht. Ich weiss es wirklich nicht.

Aber, wie gesagt, ich weiss nicht, wie gute Literatur zu ihren Lesern kommt. Ich wuesste es gern.

Naja, wenigstens habe ich eine Ahnung davon, was gute Literatur ist, und vermag sie in mehreren Sprachen zu lesen. Das ist ein Trost in meinem Elend.

Friday, July 14, 2017

"Game of Thrones" is Coming

The title of this post is a joke which you might not get if you don't watch the show.

Smug snobs are circulating memes about how they've never watched "Game of Thrones." I used to be those snobs. Yeah, I used to be proud of not watching "Game of Thrones." Then a few years ago, pretty quickly, I got hooked. For a while, being the fan of history that I am, I was very annoyed by the fact that what appeared to be an early-to-High-Medieval Western European world had some literacy, but not in Latin, because in reality, it generally took centuries before it even occurred to Western Europeans to even try to write in the native languages, so that Latin was not only the universal written language, it was the only written language, and Latin persisted along the written native languages for centuries after that. Then I told myself, Yeah, Steve, and in real life there weren't any dragons or magic or giants either, and I got over it. Somewhat. Not completely.

It would still be awesome if you learned Latin. Just the same way it would be awesome if you watched "Game of Thrones." Either way, you would thank me, and you're welcome!

It's a tremendously good show. I, like many millions of other people, am passionately in love with Daenerys Targaryen. I think Jaime is not all that bad. I hope that Arya and the Hound will end up being friends, although I'm not sure how realistic it is to hope for that. And so on and so forth. You know what I'm talking about. It's a tremendously good show. If you're too smart to watch it -- pfffft. Yes, I said pfffft, Sir! Your loss!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I am Not Clothed in Immense Power

I'm frustrated that the investigation of Donald Trump is not moving faster. I'm frustrated that Trump is still President, that he hasn't already been impeached and removed from office, or removed by means of the 25th Amendment, or persuaded to resign by the size and intensity of the opposition to him. On Facebook today, I've been debating things with some people who also very much want to see Trump removed from office, but who are concerned that the investigation and eventual prosecution by Mueller not move too fast, because they want above all for it to be thorough. They say they feel the urgency of removing Trump as much as I do, but I don't think they do. This country has been in a continuous state of dire emergency since January 20.

Anything which can be done can be done faster or slower. Faster does not have to mean sloppier or less thoroughly. Have you seen Steven Spielberg's movie Lincoln?

I'm not much of a Spielberg fan usually, but that is an excellent movie. It shows a lot of the horse-trading which Lincoln and other leading Washington Republicans did in order to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Discussing Trump these days, perhaps the last Republican President, I think of that movie about the first Republican President. I sometimes feel like Daniel Day-Lewis' Lincoln in one of the film's most dramatic moments, spurring people along, pounding angrily on the table-top with the mighty palm of his hand, pointing a huge finger (Spielberg did an amazing job, as director, of making Day-Lewis look gigantic throughout the film.) and shouting, referring to when he wanted certain things to be accomplished: "NOW! NOW! NOW!"

If only I were "clothed in immense power" like Lincoln, and could make powerful people jump and run and exert themselves to the utmost by shouting at them. Perhaps I've gained a bit of power by virtue of sheer persistence, by having e-mailed various powerful people on the subject of Trump every day for over 180 consecutive days and signed many petitions and marched in rallies and all of those other things that many of us have been doing.

Perhaps I've not gained any power at all. It's not as if I'm going to stop either way.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dream Log: Big Kind Dutch Museum

Last night I dreamed I was in a big modern museum somewhere in the Netherlands. As I am in many of my dreams, so in this one I was alone, broke and surrounded by strangers. I don't speak Dutch very well at all. In many of these dreams, in addition to my other immediate problems, I don't speak the local language. But of course, Dutch people speak English very well.

This was a very modern museum, and it seemed to be dedicated to the "everything is art" approach. And so for example, there were large groups of children in the museum, and it seemed they were being treated in the anti-disciplinarian "let them find their own way" approach of some modern schools. In a large room, the size of a large gymnasium, a group of children, maybe 10 or 12 years old, were kicking a soccer ball around. I was in a hallway which led into that large room. The ball came down the hallway toward me. I don't know whether the children had seen me standing alone in the hallway and intentionally kicked the ball to me the first time. But after I kicked it back to them the first time, they definitely kicked it back to me on purpose. And so we kicked the ball back and forth for a while, they in the large room and I in the hallway. They seemed to generally approve of my performance. However, I was not certain whether it was obvious that I was American, and whether they were taking into account, when judging the way I ran the ball down and kicked it, that I can from one of the very few places on Earth where most of the people, or at least most of them my age, hardly ever play soccer.

After the children took their ball and moved on, I sat alone on a staircase near the top of a large atrium, and wondered where the word "soccer" came from.

Then suddenly I noticed that I had lost both my shoes and my socks, and it was wintry outside. I had definitely had my shoes and socks just a moment earlier, when I was kicking the soccer ball, and now, suddenly, somehow, they were gone. I felt very embarrassed about this. But at the same time I had a feeling that I was not going to be treated harshly just when I most needed help, because I was in the Netherlands. (I don't know whether this was a realistic estimation of the Netherlands.) In any case, eventually I found a lost and found which had a variety of clothing items in a large cardboard box. A pair of shoes which could have been mine were in the box. I took those shoes and two unmatched socks from the lost and found. The museum guard in charge of the lost of found seemed to notice that I was taking socks which didn't match, and presumably weren't mine, but he seemed less concerned about that than about the fact that a person was here who needed socks. It was twilight, getting dark, and I assumed that the museum was about to close. But then two possibilities occurred to me: one, that maybe the museum didn't close; and two, that even if it was closing, they'd let me stay there. Just because it was clear I needed somewhere to stay.

I didn't talk to anyone all throughout the dream, and yet somehow I was fairly certain about what they were thinking, and what they thought of me. And it seemed that, by and large, they didn't want to go out of their way to make my troubles worse.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

My Glorious Career As a Brilliant Provocateur

I have a vivid imagination. Some would say, if they knew its full proportions, an over-active imagination. I have a healthy self-confidence in the quality of my writing. For example, when I write about receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, although I usually attempt to do so in a humourous way, I'm not joking. I imagine it all the time, and I imagine my blog blowing up -- almost constantly. (For the benefit of readers my age and older and/or with a native language other then English who may possibly be unfamiliar with the idiom: "to blow up" means "to very suddenly become extremely popular." I'm not talking about stuff literally splodin'.) I have a lot of healthy self-confidence: time after time, I finish a blog post and think to myself: This one will be a big hit.

And time after time that post is not a hit at all, but I keep my chin up and keep plugging away.

But so far, the single most clicked-on post in my 8 years of blogging is at best a medium-sized hit. Although it has several times more pageviews than anything else on this blog, I'm careful not to call it my most-read blog post, because it's clear than many of those who've commented on it, positively as well as negatively, haven't read it very carefully at all. Maybe my average post isn't any more carefully-read, on average, than my one medium-sized-or-smaller hit, maybe my average post is much more carefully-read. It's just that in the case of the hit, I know for sure that many haven't read it carefully because there are so many comments on it, on this blog and elsewhere, which completely miss its main points, such as that I am an atheist and am not sure whether or not Jesus existed.

Some time after I noticed this widespread incautious readership, I also noticed how often I myself will just read a headline or the first paragraph of something before I move on. So I see that it wouldn't be right for me to complain too much about people treating my work the same way. However, I have tried to refrain from expressing overly-emphatic opinions about written works, whether short articles or multi-volume studies, which I know only from reading a part of them.

Anyway, yesterday I wrote a post about the Volksbühne Berlin and its upcoming change in leadership, and naturally I hope that it will be the one which finally makes me a huge glorious superstar -- it, or this one, or the one linked above could get a big second wind, or another post I wrote days or years ago could blow up. As if I care how I become a huge success -- and it's gotten some reaction, both positive and negative, somewhere else on the Internet, not here on the blog itself.

And the negative reaction -- disappointingly, so far there has been only one negative reaction -- referred to Americans blabbing away without a clue. And this is interesting in more than one way. I can't really tell whether the person making the comment has read the entire blog post. If not, it would be an ironic although hardly unusual example of someone accusing a writer of not having a clue based on work they hadn't read. If the entire post was read, however -- it's not particularly long -- then, well -- I mean, I did make it particularly clear in the post, I think, that I was viewing the controversy over the Volksbühne from a long way away, and that I knew that I actually knew very little about it. But my critic did not merely blame me for speaking up without a clue, but blamed Americans for doing so and inferred that I was a typical American and that we -- Americans -- generally stink. Which, unconsciously or not, ironically or deliberately, would seem to reinforce my point about the opposition to the change in leadership of the Volksbühne having a element of xenophobia about it.

Yesterday's blog post about the Volksbühne is not particularly substantial, I freely admit that here, just as I admitted it there. However, I can see how it's possible that it could become quite widely clicked-upon -- I'm fastidiously avoiding saying "widely-read" -- because, like my medium-sized hit about Paulkovich, it deals with a topic about which people have strong opinions. And so, like my medium-sized hit, it could conceivably serve as a place for people to gather and verbally abuse each other. The wily fame-seeking provokateur writes on subjects about which people are already provoked. Yesterday's post was actually less about the Volksbühne than about some people's extremely-passionate reactions against the incoming new leader of the company, so passionate that, even without knowing many of the details or the players involved, it is difficult for me to believe that these reactions make sense.

In essence, many of my essays are about me. Many essays, from the time that Montaigne invented the genre, have been primarily about their authors. Some may see this as arrogance, I see it as honesty. The only subject one can describe with full authority is oneself. It can actually be modesty: I was going to write about Julius Caesar, but I eventually had to face the fact that I'm not competent to write an article about Julius Caesar which would be of any use to any expert; and so instead I'm writing an essay about my failure to rise to the level of a scholar of the subject of Caesar. The self is also guaranteed to be a unique subject for every author.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Volksbühne Berlin and Chris Dercon

I finally un-followed whats-her-name ("I'll never forget what's her-name") on Facebook, because I couldn't stand her posts protesting Chris Dercon's impending leadership of the Volksbühne Berlin any more.

Of course, she and the people who commented agreeing with her didn't put it that way: they weren't talking about Chris Dercon coming to the Volksbühne and taking over for Frank Castorf: they were talking about the end of the Volksbühne; no, the end of serious theatre in Berlin; no, the end of serious theatre, period; no, the end of the world. Besides the Facebook posts she also has attended protests outside the Volksbühne. Did she actually organize and lead these protests? I don't know. Has she worked as an actress at the Volksbühne? I'm not sure about that either.

Just in case someone doesn't know: I've never seen a performance at the Volksbühne. I've seen lots and lots of pictures of productions, and a few videoclips, and read some reviews, and read some of the plays performed there. But I've never actually been there; ergo, by definition, I don't know what I'm talking about.

My first reaction, when She Who Has Been Unfollowed began her torrent of furious posts, was that it all seemed rather overdone for what was, ironically, a rather elite affair. I was assuming a greater similarity to a theatre culture with which I am actually familiar -- big-time commercial theatre in NYC -- than there actually is. Tickets to a Broadway or Off-Broadway or even some Off-Off-Broadway shows are expensive enough to make it quite an exclusive affair. Not to mention the comps: the many tickets given absolutely free to big shots who could afford perfectly well to pay full price, because it's ab-so-lute-ly backwards.

But I figured I'd better do some research before just wading into the middle of all of that Facebook lamentation and calling them all silly elitist drama queens. And it turned out that I was wrong: tickets for the Volksbühne are much less expensive than those for a Broadway play: no ticket costs more than 40 Euros; retirees and low-income people pay about half price; and some people who qualify on the basis of need can get several tickets per season free.

My next reaction was to say that they could've taken all of the energy they'd expending being furious about something which hasn't happened yet and might be quite different than what they expect, and used it to start their own damn theatre company. And they could. But, as I continued to research the Volksbühne, I learned that, in addition to the money taken in at the box office, the state of Berlin gave the Volksbühne 184 Euros for every ticket sold in 2009, and 141 Euros for every ticket sold in 2010 (these are the latest statistics I could find). And I imagine that they get the use of that theatre building right in the middle of Berlin rent-free, too.

Okay, so, yeah, they could start their own company, but starting one like the Volksbühne might be harder than I had imagined.

So I was wrong about all of that, and drastically under-informed about how German theatre in general works, and I've never seen a production at the Volksbühne, never seen one directed by Castorf, or by Dercon. So do I still actually have a freakin' problem with the protesters?

Yes. One word which is frequently used by them when they describe the way in which Dercon is going to destroy the the Volksbühne is "international." They foresee Volksbühne productions which will be slick, safe, aimed at garnering international prizes. And no longer the distinctly Berliner theatre they love. Dercon ain't even a gosh-dang German, he's a furriner, a Belgian.

What kind of God-damned Communist objects to internationalism? Provincial Communists. That's what kind. I've never been to the Volksbühne, but I have by gosh been to Berlin, and it's magnificent, and one of the things which makes it so is its openness to the world.

The whole world.

And, and, I do believe that while some international prizes are given to slick and safe theatre productions, others aren't. So that if the Volksbühne under Dercon's leadership does win some international prizes, it won't mean that everything the protesters said was correct. Although no doubt they will claim that it does.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Germany is On the Verge of Legalizing LGBT Marriage

Germany is on the verge of legalizing LGBT marriage. One legislative body has approved it, we're waiting for a second to make it official. Although their version of the Supreme Court might overturn the law.

People's reactions show that bigotry is the same wherever you go.

There are the people acting as if the Bible were the law of the land -- but much more when it has to do with homosexuality than when it has to do with shellfish and pork and the Sabbath.

There are people saying that -- although in many cases they assure us that they personally have nothing at all against homosexuals -- allowing gay marriage will be "only the beginning" and will open the gates for people who want to marry small children, animals or their siblings or parents. As if pedophilia, bestiality or incest were more likely to be practiced or favored by homosexuals than by heterosexuals. They're not.

In one land just an in another, about 100% of the people who are vehemently opposed to gay marriage and gay rights in general are, often but not always subconsciously, gay. They are afraid that expansion of gay rights, and the concomitant greater public profile of gay people because they have less reason to be afraid and hide, will make it harder for them to hide their own true nature. From themselves above all, in many but not all cases.

Apart from such neuroses of ancient religion and self-loathing, from a mentally healthy point of view, this change in the laws of Germany is not a beginning, but an end: an end to a discrimination again LGBT's. It's as simple as it can be: it's a refusal, when it comes to the issue of marriage, to make the lives of LGBT's more difficult than they already are.

Friday, June 30, 2017

There IS a Detrot Watch Company That Makes Mechanicals! No, it's NOT Shinola!

As I've mentioned before on this blog, Shinola knows that real watch enthusiasts want mechanical watches. 5 years in, they've made it pretty clear that they don't care what real watch enthusiasts want, because they're too busy selling watches with quartz movements. For $550 and up. As to how much they're actually made in the US with Swiss parts, as opposed to merely assembled in the US, from Chinese parts, let's just say that Shinola and the FTC disagree about that. Which is unfortunate for a company which constantly presents itself as 180% pure local Detroit manufacturing.

Or maybe it's not unfortunate for them. Maybe they're totally getting away with their scam. Maybe their executives don't often wake up screaming in the middle of the night because their subconsciouses are not okay with what they're consciously doing.

The company seems to be doing very well. They have brick-and-mortar stores springing up all over the place. One of them is about a mile and a half from where I am right now. I've been in there. They seems to be doing brisk business. I honestly admired the looks of the watches, and bought a notebook.

But that was a couple of years ago. Since then I've gotten tired of waiting for them to finally roll out a mechanical watch, and things like their differences of opinion with the FTC have made me wonder more whether they're just basically straight-up MBA Starbucks-and-Nike-style hucksters, hot-air salesmen, who DON'T actually care about Detroit, or integrity, or craftsmanship, or quality watches, or anything else other than your money and mine.

And I don't really know much of anything about this other Detroit watch company I just stumbled across, either, except: they DO make mechanical watches. But maybe, just maybe, they're more of a company with a soul than Shinola, which has been riding this huge marketing campaign about how they're a company with a soul. I see a few encouraging signs in this other Detroit watch company.

This other company's name is really easy to remember: it's called the Detroit Watch Company.

They use movements which aren't made in Murrka, but on their hompepage, under "Movement," they tell you what movements they use: Sellita, Eta and Miyota. They prominently feature a thorough rundown, on their website, about exactly what happens in what country in the making of their watches. Completely unlike Shinola. (And maybe because of Shinola, and aimed at those of us who've noticed how Shinola is less than 180% honest? Hm. Maybe. Who knows. Maybe it's a total coincidence, and the guys at Detroit Watch Company have never even heard of Shinola.)

The movements are the same as those used by many prestigious Swiss firms, and by high-end watchmakers in other countries. All of the watches are automatics which can also be hand-wound.

The retail prices for Detroit Watch Company watches run from $845 to $2050. Does this make them good deals compared to other watches in general? Or would a true expert tell you OMG no! Not when you could get -- say -- an Omega for the same price? I have no idea. I don't know enough about the Detroit Watch Company, and I still don't know nearly enough about watches in general, to be able to tell you that. But it's hard to imagine that watch aficionados wouldn't find those Detroit Watch Company prices awfully attractive when compared to the prices of Shinola's quartz watches.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Local Heroes

He sat in his tux in the gaping hole of broken glass in the storefront of her father's store, a little before dawn of a long night of galas and receptions and paparazzi and other photographers and movie stars and politicians and billionaires, sat there ready to fend off would-be looters or stray cats or owls or whoever else might try to violate the perimeter. She showed up before the cops did, and I watched the two of them, unnoticed, I'm pretty sure, from the black shade under the old oak across the street. I'd been watching them for most of our lives. You couldn't help but stare. They were godlike, even now, pushing 50: just a little bit more good-looking, graceful, charming and witty, both of them, than mere mortals could ever hope to be. She hiked up the skirt of her ball gown as she stepped around little piles of glass behind him, inspecting the damage. She stopped once and touched his shoulder and he shrank involuntarily at her touch. It still seemed she could make him nervous; she, and nobody else I knew of. They spoke for a little while, their voices just a little too low for me to hear what they were saying.

The three of us had gone to the same public schools in this neighborhood in Brooklyn. They were three grades ahead of me, king and queen of the proms, took turns as class president, and most likely to everything. I know now that nobody's lives turn out as expected, but even with huge expectations, their lives hadn't disappointed. She went from the kind of photographer whose pictures are shown in art galleries to a weather girl when arty photography wasn't paying the bills. And although she got the job because of typical weather-girl va-va-voom, amazingly, she subverted the job with feminist irony and wit, and was also actually way above average with the meteorology. Besides the usual reasons, people actually watched her because her forecasts were more accurate than the rest. From weather girl she moved very quickly to local reporter to anchor to network reporter to... what she is, there's only one. She hosts a weekly network news show and frequent specials. She's outspoken about politics. She might become President. And all along, she's made a point of not hiding her very active sex life. She said she made a point of not hiding it because when a man was active in a similar way it tended to make him a hero, and she refused to allow herself to be shamed for something natural and healthy, and more to the point, something a man would be admired for.

She was always very generous with her time and help for people starting out in the business. For me, for example: she hooked me up with my first TV cameraman gig, said, "Okay, I'm vouching for you, Champ, don't let me down," and gave me a smile which made me shiver, and a kiss on the cheek which made my heart pound, and made me want to make sure I didn't let her done more than I've ever wanted anything in my relatively lukewarm life. I guess I didn't let her down. I'm still employed as a cameraman and occasionally lately as a news segment producer.

He became a tennis god right out of high school. He became world famous right away, and rich from product endorsements and commercials. The fame and money had much more to do with his looks than with the quality of the tennis he played, as was the case years later with Anna Kournikova. And just as with Kournikova, if you complained that he wasn't such a great tennis player, you were missing the point.

His tennis career didn't last nearly as long as Kournikova's: he had been a pro for just a year and a half when he severely broke his racquet arm in a car crash. All the bones in his forearm were broken through in several places each. It's not often that an arm fracture is so severe as to require hospitalization. They kept him in the hospital for a week just because of his arm.

And during that week -- how much on purpose on his part, I still have no idea -- pictures of him behaving inappropriately with several female nurses and one female doctor -- not all at once -- became public. He had already been seen out and about with many different women during his brief tennis career.

His arm never healed enough for him to play tennis vigorously again, but very soon it had healed enough so that he could type, and soon he was writing newspaper stories good enough to surprise people who'd had him pegged as an airhead stud. Besides the reporting, he began to publish well-received short stories and novels. The combination of his reporting and his looks lead him pretty soon into the same TV-news world as his former schoolmate.

Neither of them ever had time for a day of college.

Then, in their late 20's, after a decade of each of them having very famously dated a lot of people, it happened: very strangely, he suddenly fell very publicly, extremely awkwardly and embarrassingly, and unrequitedly, in love with her. He sobbed like a baby in front of live TV cameras when he was supposed to be reporting stories, talked about her and cried on talk shows -- which certainly didn't discourage talk shows, the vultures, from booking him. He made about as big a public spectacle of himself as possible without getting himself fired from all of his gigs. She stayed composed, and was about as nice about it all as anyone could be who honestly just didn't like him that way.

The crying and making a spectacle of himself lasted for months. Then finally he got a grip on himself and started to behave more normally again. But it seemed obvious that he never got over her. He kept right on with his extremely busy romantic life. He kept right on with that even during the crying and saying embarrassing things phase. But he never seemed to see a contradiction there.

They both went on being godlike -- Olympian -- in their sex lives. That very night, one of his latest relationships had gone very public, with a just-turned-legal former gymnast. She was dating an actor not much older than the gymnast. The general public reaction seemed to be that whoever they dated was not being used, but was very, very lucky. The young women who'd been with the former tennis god, the young men who'd been with the former artsy photographer -- they all seemed to wander around in a blissful daze, as if they been blessed by supernatural spells most of us can never hope to experience.

And during his public freak-out over her 20 years earlier, although she didn't return his passion, they became good friends, and they had stayed very good friends, with that unrequited thing hanging there between them the whole time. Strangely, that kind of made sense.

This evening, this long night of galas and other parties, he had ended up with some others of us from the neighborhood, and we all rode the subway together in our tuxes back to Brooklyn, and someone had a football, and he had for some reason been standing in front of her father's old store when someone fired a pass which sailed over his head and was thrown hard enough that it actually shattered the decades-old plate glass storefront. Her dad's appliances and furniture were exposed to the night air and potential looters and stray cats and owls. He immediately took out his phone and dialed 911 and sat down amid the broken glass to guard his beloved lady's father's store. Why had he been standing right there waiting for someone to pass him the ball?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

You Can't Compromise With Extremists

I'm so sick of all these dodos saying, "Both parties need to sit down and compromise and work things out," as if the Democrats and Republicans were equally to blame for Everything. This seems to be more of the damage done by so-called objective journalism, making people unwilling or unable to see that one party may actually be more to blame for some things than the other.

In reaction to the latest Republican helath-care proposal, the one they put together in a completely unprecedented secretive manner and apparently hoped to slip past the Democrats and parts of their own party into law while no one was watching, just what exactly would it mean for the Democrats to "come together" with the Republicans and "work together"? Only causing 11 million people to lose their health insurance instead of 22 million? Something like that?

"Working together" with them -- would that mean re-allowing only some of the toxins going back into our air and water since the Trump administration took over? Deporting only some of the people the Republicans want to deport based on ethnicity or religion? Acting as if only some of the things Trump pulls out of his ass are facts? Saying that maximum sentences are okay in only some drug-related cases? Allowing only some of their anti-LGBT legislation? Acting as if it's only sort of the 1950's?

What the Democrats need to is tell the truth and get out the vote. Not just every 4 years, and not just every 2 years, although even that, sadly, would be a great improvement. No, Democrats need to turn out for every election. Republicans do this better than we Democrats do, and that is why they keep kicking our asses even though there are more of us than of them. We need to vote for President, Senator, Representative, Governor, Mayor, City Council, School Board, Judge, Sheriff, Comptroller, EVERYTHING. There are more of us than there are of them! If we ACTED like it, their right-wing evil bullshit would be left in the past where it belongs.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Taylor Swift

I'm constantly reading about Taylor Swift and some boring thing she's doing, usually something that amounts to getting on some other celebrity's nerves for no Earthly reason I can see, or making a big fuss about something whose meaning I cannot grasp, such as her "girl squads." However, I never had any idea what her music sounded like -- and supposedly, what Taylor Swift is, is a singer. A recording artist. And I thought that maybe it was time I should know. I felt I owed it to you, my faithful readers, to go where you might quite understandably be afraid to go, to YouTube, and listen to Taylor Swift, and then tell you what it was like, so that you wouldn't have to.

I did this recently with Justin Bieber, and found, to my great surprise, that I actually like his music. But I was afraid to do it with Taylor Swift. I was afraid it would kill me. Quite literally: I was afraid that Taylor Swift's music would sound so bad that listening to it would make me die.

But today was the day that I finally gathered up my nerve, went to YouTube and typed taylor swift in the search window.

And it's worse than I feared: I didn't die. I have to go on living having listened to Taylor Swift records.

But you don't have to. And you can now warn others.

Great Big Fat Guy, Day 606

I've been sick lately. The last few days. I think I'm better now, but I'm still early enough in the recovery that I don't want to say for sure that the flu, or whatever it was, is past. I feel good, but I'm still a little wobbly.

Four days ago, on Thursday -- here come four words I hadn't pictured myself saying -- I quit drinking coffee. I expected that to be a lot harder than it was. On the other hand, maybe the withdrawl was severe, but it just blended in with the overall sickness so that I didn't notice it as a separate thing. My coffe-drinking tastes had been getting fancier and fancier. I have an elaborate coffee-maker made by Cuisinart. I was drinking a blend imported from Itay -- and then, boom, gone, that's history. I feel a little sad about that. Is this permanent? We'll see.

9 days ago, I turned 56. Jesus, I sure got old fast. 56?! When did THAT happen? Anyway, I haven't felt like exercising as much, and I don't know how much is laziness, how much is health issues which can be addressed -- by, for instance, no longer ingesting something which was delicious and comforting and every morning like a big brown steamy hug -- and how much may be things like depression, and how much is just natural, because it's just me getting old. I know, I know, there are inspiring stories of people who are running Iron Man triathlons and being fashion runway models at age 95, and they always say: if THEY can do it, YOU can do it! But lately I've been wondering whether it's just bullshit to think that anybody can do anything that anybody else ever did. I mean, hey, good for those 95-year-old supermodels, bless their hearts, really. But maybe the chances most of us have of doing what they do are about the same as their chances of winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.

I would like to win the Nobel and also be super-buff at age 95. But realistically, I may only be capable of doing one.

Something to think about.

Hit it, Katy!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Computers and Language

So-called artificial intelligence programs are still a long way from tackling language. And by language I mean languages which are spoken by humans, like English or Japanese. "Computer languages," sets of instructions followed by computers, are not the same as human languages. It has not been demonstrated yet that the languages which we speak can be reduced to such sets of instructions. If they can, we're still a long way away from doing it. If they can't, then, in my opinion, that would be one of the reasons not to worry about the machines eventually rising up and killing us all. If a computer was capable of having a conversation with me which was indistinguishable from a conversation with a human, then I'd be startled. And possibly a little spooked as well. I would include written conversations like those in chat rooms.

Math is exact and language is not. Often times letters, the symbols used to record some languages, have been used as mathematical symbols. Roman numerals are one well-known example of that. But while the symbols used in language and math may be the same, what they refer to is not. X + IV = XIV means exactly the same as 10 + 4 = 14, and any number of different systems of notation can be used to express exactly the same thing as 10 + 4 = 14. However, many times the simplest sentences are untranslatable from one language to another. And very many, perhaps most sentences cannot be exactly translated. Furthermore, in many cases, perhaps most, the best translation is a matter of opinion. Highly-qualified experts in linguistics and literature routinely disagree about whether this translation of a poem or novel is better than that one.

As long as we're talking about translation made by humans, that is. With all of the astounding advances made in computing, the best computer translation programs still routinely produce results which are comically bad and far inferior to any work done by any competent professional human translator. The same goes for original written compositions by computers compared with those written by ordinary lit students.

Computers are far beyond humans now when it comes to playing chess. (And if recent headlines have not misled me, computers are about to pass us as Go players as well.) But computers play chess differently than humans, by crunching enormous amounts of data. How do we humans do it? Well, we don't know yet.

Perhaps human intelligence would be less mysterious if the possibility were more often considered that it involves things which aren't reducible to math. Perhaps researchers sometimes resist considering that, because one of the things it would mean is that we're not, in fact, on the brink of developing artificial intelligence. Well, actually, many people think that we're already well past the brink, and that artificial intelligence has already existed for some time.

No doubt, information technology has produced many amazing things, and continues to do so with no end in sight. Maybe there's no reason for me to object to calling some of those things artificial intelligence. I don't go around angrily telling IT people to stop using the term "computer language."

But as I've said, a computer language is a fundamentally different thing than a language spoken by humans. And artificial intelligence, if we want to use that term for things which already exist, and why not -- I mean, people are using that term for things which exist, whether we approve or not -- is still fundamentally different from what human brains do. Playing chess, computers win. Writing poems, computers still have not given us any competition. Perhaps the things needed in order to write great poems are quantifiable. But perhaps they're not.

And perhaps the latter possibility is too often overlooked.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Bad Mental Habit of Anachronism

The Roman roads were not "the Internet of the ancient world." Clipper ships were not "the Internet of the 19th century." I really dislike this tendency on the part of some historians, and some pseudo-historians and sort-of-historians, to say that something was "the (insert 21st-century thing) of (insert earlier era.)" That does not help people to understand what the earlier era was like.

In the ancient world, yes, the Roman roads did improve travel significantly. But it still could take months or years for news to travel from one part of the world to another. But most people didn't travel much at all, unless they were soldiers, which could be a very unpleasant way of traveling.

There were no newspapers in the ancient world. To say that the Roman Acta Diurna were daily newspapers is again a disservice to anyone trying to understand the ancient world. They were daily announcements, but they were not newspapers. More like signs, put up in a public place in Rome, with a little bit of information or misinformation which the government wanted the people to receive. The earliest thing in Europe resembling a news periodical was the Notizie scritte which began to appear in Venice in the 16th century. It only appeared monthly. In 1631 a weekly news publication, La Gazette, began to appear in Paris. The earliest daily newspaper of which I am aware was the Daily Courant, which began publication in London in 1702. And none of these early European news publication was affordable to the general public. Newspapers aimed at the general public didn't begin to appear until the 19th century.

So what? So stop telling me that there are no mentions of Jesus in any ancient newspapers, that's what. The Acta Diurna were not a newspaper; no copies of any of them have survived; they weren't made and distributed in big stacks of papyrus copies. That would have been an extremely extravagant expense. They were scratched into stone or metal, a few words a day. One copy. Occasionally somebody would copy something down from one of them and send the copy to a governor.

It's hard to imagine what earlier eras were like. Often it's very difficult for us to remember earlier times in our own lives. I've noticed this in the records of earlier eras: people who lived most of their lives without the telegraph, for example, or passenger trains, took them completely for granted once they had been available for a few years. (Available to their privileged classes, that is. The difficulty of imagining the lives of those less fortunate seems to be another constant feature of human consciousness.) I'm 55 years old. I know that in my childhood there were 4 channels on TV, 3 commercial networks plus PBS, and that there was no Internet, and that very few people could afford computers, and that computers much simpler than the simplest of today's pocket calculators were as big as typewriters, or bigger.

I know this, but it's hard to really remember what it was like, and how much different things were back then. I know things such as that Presidential candidates could say one thing to one crowd, and something completely different to another crowd later the same day, and it was much harder to nail them for it if there wasn't any audio or video of either speech, and often there wasn't. So, for example, when Hunter S Thompson tells me in his book on the 1972 Presidential campaign, during which I turned 11, that Hubert Humphrey did that sort of thing constantly, I have to take his word for it. (I do take Thompson's word for that. But why should you? Well, that's a tough one.)

Ah, but I'm going to have to explain to many of you what typewriters were.

They were not the Internet of the mid-20th century. There was no Internet back then.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Comey Vs Ryan OnTrump

Today, James Comey said:

"It confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation, and learned again from the media that he was telling privately other parties that my firing had relieved great pressure on the Russian investigation. I was also confused by the initial explanation that was offered publicly that I was fired because of the decisions I had made during the election year. That didn't make sense to me for a whole bunch of reasons, including the time and all the water that had gone under the bridge since those hard decisions that had to be made. That didn't make any sense to me. And although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple."

That's the kind of comment that earns you a reputation for honesty.

Today, Paul Ryan said:

"The president’s new at this. He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this."

That's not.

What Comey said was surprising, not because it's news to anybody that the President is a pathological liar, one of the biggest liars most of us have ever had the misfortune to encounter. It's surprising because so few of the leaders of the US and so few of the leading journalists covering US politics are coming right out and saying what we all know. It was also surprising because Comey is a Republican, and almost all of the Republicans are still doing what Ryan is doing: saying ridiculous things to try to cover up what everybody can plainly see: that the President is a liar, a crook, a bully, a sociopath and utterly unfit to hold any public office.

The Republicans are wasting so much time, saying so much weasel-mouthed infuriating garbage like Ryan excusing the President's behavior with comments like "He's new to this," letting things get so much worse and worse, before doing what we all know they are going to have to do: remove Trump from office. Unless they actually put that off until after the 2018 mid-term elections, when, if they still haven't done it, presumably enough of them will lose their seats to Democrats that removing Trump from office won't be up to them any more.

For years now, Republicans in elected office have failed to do the most important thing political leaders are supposed to do: lead. They've been following the base, and this has shown what following the base does: it makes the base stupider. It seems clear that the only thing which will cause the Republicans to impeach and remove Trump is Trump's approval rating sinking to a certain point. Now, if they were real leaders, and explaining to their constituents how horrible Trump is and how important it is to get rid of him, that would surely make Trump's approval ratings sink quickly. But that would be leadership. That would be integrity. That would be country over party. That would improve the party, give it some dignity. That would be the sort of thing Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt did. But of course, today's Republicans are just about exactly the opposite of Lincoln and Teddy. One of the last times I can remember a Republican elected official leading instead of following was during the 2008 Presidential campaign, when John McCain was taking questions at a campaign event, and a woman in the crowd said some birther nonsense about Obama, and McCain corrected her. I don't like John McCain very much, but unlike Paul Ryan, he does seem to have at least some principle and backbone.

Although today, at the hearing where Comey was testifying, McCain was very interested in Hillary's email, and at one point addressed Comey as "President Comey." McCain insisted that Comey was setting a "double standard" because the FBI investigation into Hillary's possible improper behavior with her emails was now closed, and this investigation into the Trump administration was not.

Yesterday McCain seemed very troubled by the state of the Trump administration. It seems we can't be sure which McCain we're going to get from one day to the next. He may not be the man to turn the GOP toward leadership, toward integrity, and toward doing the right thing with Trump.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

If Oprah Winfrey,

Larry King, Harold Bloom, Charlie Rose, Stephen King, John Grisham, Barack Obama, Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Brokaw, Keith Olbermann, Bob Costas, Barney Frank, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary and Bill and Chelsea Clinton, George Bush Sr and Babs and W, Elon Musk, Taylor Swift, Lady GaGa, Stephen Colbert, Jay Z, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Tina Fey, Alicia Keyz, Kanye West, Leonardo DiCaprio, Demi Lovata and Raed Selah all praised my blog at once, all on the same day, publicly -- on Twitter or Facebook or their own shows or wherever they go to publicly praise obscure bloggers -- that'd be pretty cool for me.

Commercially. Those wouldn't be the 32 most flattering raves possible for me. In some of those 32 cases I'd be extremely flattered. Some of those people, I admire their work very much and value their opinions very highly. In other cases less so. And in some cases I don't even know who they are, or anything about them except that lots of people hang on their every word and gesture.

I don't suppose it's realistic to hope that all of those people will publicly praise my work today.

Life is hard. I need a break. I need a whole bunch of huge breaks.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Our Deadliest Enemy: HUMAN STUPIDITY

This really happened to me, just now. On the side of a busy road, a sign said, "GARAGE SALE. Everything FREE!" with an arrow pointing down a side street into a residential area.

No, the fact that "sale" doesn't match "free" is not the stupidity referred to in the title of this post. I noticed the incongruity right away, but it didn't really bother me. In retrospect, however, it does seem to match what followed. Onward:

I was somewhat busy, but the announced pricing scheme was too tempting to pass up. There was no address on the sign, so as I walked down the street I looked all around for anything resembling a garage or yard sale.

The street curved and ended in a T-intersection. I still saw no sale going on anywhere. And there was no sign about any sale anywhere in sight, either.

And now I'm thinking about people so stupid that they literally have great difficulty giving stuff away. I hope there are people looking out for them who realize how special they are.

All Solar All The Time

I have an unusual relationship with the sun. I don't like bright sunlight. This has to do with my autism. Even with me avoiding bright sunshine as much as I can, I still get very tan very quickly. Maybe this is a sign that my body doesn't NEED as much sun as the average body does.

So, I stay out of the sun, and find it unpleasant when I have to be outside on a sunny day -- pretty much the exact opposite of most people. It has been this way my entire life.

But lately a new element has been added: my enthusiasm for solar energy. This enthusiasm, much like the solar-power industry, has just kept rapidly growing and growing over the past few years. But despite the steady growth in solar power, I've been getting steadily more and more frustrated because it isn't growing faster. I see the bright sunlight falling down all around (usually looking out from inside through a window), and all I can think of is how that tremendous amount of energy is being wasted every second, because there aren't solar panels everywhere. You know how in movies sometimes there's a character who knows something very important, and he goes around yelling about it, but nobody understands this very important thing, and so everybody thinks he's crazy? I haven't gotten to the point yet where I go around screaming about solar power all the time. But I've gotten to the point where I can very easily picture myself doing it: "Put the solar panels everywhere! Smash the power of the private utilities! We don't need coal! We don't need it! Aaaarrrghh!"

Except that more and more people would understand exactly what I was talking about, and fewer and fewer would think I was crazy.

Maybe I should do it: just start flipping out and screaming about it in public. Maybe if I do, lots of others will join me.

This is a global issue, as you may have heard, but it's been much easier for me to find statistics on US solar power than on global solar power.

And even the US statistics aren't always entirely clear. For example, I've read that 1.3 rooftops in the US have solar panels, including nearly 400,000 installations in 2016 alone. But are those all residential rooftops, or does that include the rooftops of factories and warehouses and office buildings and restaurants and malls and gas stations and other buildings? And among residential rooftops, how do the logistics of solar for single-family houses compare to those of solar for apartment buildings of various sizes? Not to mention the logistics for non-residential buildings?

There are lots and lots of figures and stats involved here, and in case it isn't already completely obvious: I'm not up to speed yet on all of them. I apologize for being lazy about that even though I understand how important it is to give you the best information I can.

One figure that you see very often is that between 40% and 50% of America's electricity could be generated by solar. Frankly, I don't trust that figure, because I think they're not counting all of the places where solar panels could be put. I know, I know, it's not cost-efficient to put solar panels everywhere, or to completely cover every roof with PV (photovoltaic, light-to-electricity) panels. But let's put 'em everywhere anyway. Let's over-do it.

Plus, the technology is making the PV panels more efficient, and all of the other related technology more effective, such as batteries which keep more power longer. So I think we can go way past 50% of our electricity from solar.

And then there's still wind and geothermal and tidal and so forth.

Also: a lot of the projections about the future of solar power (and other renewable sources of energy) have to do with energy utility policy: utilities could decide to screw people over and minimize the benefits of renewables, legislatures could continue to give big incentives to oil and gas, etc.

In short: politics will have a lot to do with it.

Which means that we the people can grab this issue and make it ours. We can take over all the utilities, and vote for people who will run them for the greatest possible benefit to health and sanity, and pass laws which are friendly to methods of generating power which are friendly to living things. We can do that. In the US, that means: vote Democratic, and in the primaries, vote for the Democrats who're most progressive on energy. Don't throw your votes away by voting Green, because this is much too important. This post attempts to explain to American Green Party voters how it is that they are throwing their votes away while Green Party voters in other countries are not, and what changes we need to make to the US Constitution so that we can vote Green here too without throwing our votes away. The idea of doing away with the Electoral College has gotten very popular, and we should do that. But in addition to that, we can make a lot of other huge improvements in the way our government functions.

Monday, May 29, 2017


What is the evangelischer Kirchentag, which was held a couple of days ago in Berlin, and at which Barack Obama met with Angela Merkel? I don't really know for sure, except that I'm sure we don't have anything exactly like it in the US.

I got the impression from the news that the Kirchentag was pretty laid back in general.

This guy was there, and he does not seem laid back:

His sign reads:

"A warning to all drunks, liars, party animals, drug freaks, adulterers, porn freaks, masturbators, whores, thieves, abortionists, magicians, gossipers, hypocrites, homosexuals, greedy people, idolators, feminists, false Christians, atheists, pagans: Hell awaits you!"

Thanks for the heads-up, Buddy!

Clearly, that sign represents a minority view among Christians today. The thing is, though, for most of the history of Christianity, it was not a minority view, it was mainstream. You could get into a lot of trouble for saying that anything on that list was not going to be punished by an eternity of torment in Hell.

As I've pointed out before on this blog: many Christians today, most of them, have beliefs which are entirely at odds with the beliefs of Christians in earlier eras. Which makes me wonder why they still keep calling themselves Christians.

I'm not upset enough about this to go around waving signs of my own. That would be the New Atheists. In fact, my experiences with New Atheists have made me a lot more tolerant of religious believers. New Atheists have removed all doubt from my mind that whether or not a person has religious beliefs is NOT a reliable indicator of that person's intelligence.

Still, this huge contradiction between the great majority of today's Christians (and adherents of other faiths) and the history of Christianity (and the histories of those other faiths) is -- really quite something.

Someone saw that picture above and remarked that John Paul II said there was no Hell.

John Paul II didn't say that. I'm pretty sure not even Pope Francis has said anything like that yet.

But Christians, a lot of them, busily revise the history of Christianity, rather than deal with the contradictions between their beliefs and the history of their religion. And, again, it's exactly the same with other religions today.

Yes, progressive Christians, I get that you're entirely different than that guy with his hateful sign. And I'm not going to get up all in your faces about the things on that sign, but it's still the very plain truth that THAT is traditional Christianity, and that you guys are making it up as you go and still, for some reason, calling it Christianity.

And I get the reasons, too: There's a Hell of a lot of tradition and inertia here besides all that stuff on the guy's sign, and a lot of good stuff, and billions of people can't be expected to suddenly just dispose of one of the centrals aspects of their lives.

Still. It would be nice to hear more often that this good stuff is based on nonsense. As opposed to refusing to face that the nonsense ever existed, and insisting that none of the stories in the Bible were taken literally before 19th century America, and all of that recent nonsense.

It would be nice.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bin Ich Ein Noch Groesserer Genius, Als Ich Schon Ahnte?

Ist solches moeglich?

Bin ich denn wirklich der Erste, der je den beruehmteste und vielleicht bloedeste Spruch des ollen Langweiligers Cicero --


Ins Deutsche als

"Ach die Zeiten, ach die Sitten!"

uebersetzt hat?

Meine Version, finde ich, rettet die ganze Bloedheit, Steifheit, Ahnungslosigkeit, Unhoeflichkeit und Laecherlichkeit des Originals in die deutsche Sprache.


Naja. Gelassen bleiben. Wo ist Musils Nobel? Joyces? Prousts? Twains? Tolstojs?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Vicente Fox Has Advice For Donald Trump

This video is awesome. It reminds me, an Amurrkin, what it's like when the leader of a country is intelligent and witty, instead of idiotic and also extremely unpleasant. Fox here talks to Trump as if Trump were a 5-year-old boy, so there's some chance that Trump might actually understand what Fox is saying to him.

If Trump sees this, or any of the other numerous televised messages Fox has sent him, and if he understands what the former Mexican President is saying -- will he actually take any of it to heart, and change for the better? It's extremely difficult for me to imagine that he will. I'm always saying that "never" is the most-overused word in the English language, but when it comes to Trump experiencing personal growth and becoming a better person, I really can't see any reason for hope.

I hope I'm wrong.

Meanwhile -- Republicans, you really should be ashamed of yourselves for having allowed him to remain President this long! What's it going to take for you to man and woman up, do your jobs and throw this bum out?! What will it take? Would a video of Trump handing flash drives full of top-secret intel to Russian spies and taking suitcases full of cash in return be enough? How about if he actually did stand on the sidewalk and shoot at random passers-by on 5th Av in NYC with a .45, like he's bragged he could and get away with it? Is he right, would you let him get away with that?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Swiss Watches

Geneva is in the easternmost corner of Switzerland, surround by France to the north, east and south. From Geneva the Swiss-French border runs about 100 miles, as the crow flies, to Basel, where the Swiss, French and German borders all meet. The area along this Swiss-French border between Geneva and Basel is quite mountainous, and was somewhat isolated before the invention of the railroad. In the early 18th century, most of the Swiss people living along this border were farmers. But snow prevented them from growing anything for about 6 months of the year. So they began to make parts for watches, to earn a little extra money. Many of them soon found out that they could make more money making these watch parts than buy farming, and began to make watches all year round, and their descendants have been watchmakers ever since. That's why so many big Swiss watchmakers are headquartered in tiny little Swiss mountain villages.

At first, Swiss watchmakers mostly concentrated on making inexpensive products. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the US was known as the place where the best watches were made. But by the mid-20th century, Swiss watches considered the best, and many of them had become quite expensive. Swiss watchmakers prided themselves in making their watches more and more accurate and precise.

Then quartz watches appeared. In the early 1970's, quartz watches made all over the world were more accurate than the finest spring-driven Swiss watches at a fraction of the price. In Switzerland, this time is called the Quartz Crisis.

Some Swiss watchmakers responded by making their own quartz watches. Many went out of business. Some of the oldest makers of fine watches were bought up by the Swatch Group, named after Swatches, the cheap, colorful, mostly quartz-driven watches which were a popular fad in the 1970's. As of 2002, Breguet, Blancpain, Leon Hatot, Jacques Droz, Glashiette, Omega, Longines, Rado, Tissot, Calvin Klein Watches, Union, Certina, Mido, Hamilton and Flik Flak belonged to the Swatch Group, along with Swatch itself, which is still around and still makes watches, mostly quartz but also some mechanical ones. How good are Swatch watches? I have no idea.

ETA is a Swiss company which mostly makes watch movements. A movement is the motor of a watch. ETA makes both quartz and mechanical movements. Many watchmakers both in Switzerland and in other parts of the world use ETA movements in some or all of their watches.

Some Swiss watchmakers have remained proudly independent, not being bought by the Swatch Group or any other corporate conglomerate, and making most or all of the movements for their own watches. (Watch afficienados and watch snobs have long and heated arguments about just how important it is for watchmakers to use movements they have made themselves -- also referred to as "in-house movements.") Three such companies, held in such high esteem that many people referred to them as the "Holy Trinity," are Patek Philippe (established in 1851), Vacheron Constantine (est 1755) and Audemars Piguet (est 1875). Although, these days, some would say that Jaeger-Lecoultre (est 1833) has become better than any of them. One thing's for sure: all 4 of those companies make very high-quality watches, at prices ranging from 4 to 7 figures per watch.

And new watch companies are springing up all the time, in Switzerland and elsewhere, some making cheap crap and others making very good watches, and some in between.

But not very many new pocket watches, which makes me sad. And most of the new pocket watches seem made for nostalgia, imitating old ones instead of trying to embrace being new, and that makes me sadder. As an extreme example: the new Omega pocket watches actually ARE old to a great degree: their movements were made in the 1930's. Recently someone found these 80-year-old watch movements in a warehouse, and Omega decided to refurbish them to make expensive nostalgic pocket watches. Make new watches which are proud of being new, I say, and don't insist that we wear all of them on our wrists! I can't be the only guy in the world who feels this way, although maybe I am.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Some American Essays Judged "Best"

In The Best American Essays 2004, In his essay "Against Cool," Rick Moody spends 32 pages making it absolutely clear that he doesn't even know what cool is. Not counting 2 pages of footnotes.

Moody begins his long essay by assuring the reader that he himself is not and has never been cool. But I don't think a person can judge his or her own level of coolness. One doesn't say, "I'm cool!" or "I'm not cool." One recognizes it outside of oneself, and says, "She's so cool!" or "Hey, man, that wasn't cool." In his song "Life's Been Good," Joe Walsh remarks, "Everybody's says I'm cool." But he gives the impression that he definitely considers the possibility that "everybody" says that to him just because he's a rock star. The whole thrust of the song is Walsh saying that he knows that he is lucky, that he doesn't claim that he has earned every penny he has by good old American hard work and grit, or by being a genius. He may be tremendously hardworking, and, at least in my opinion, he is a musical genius. But if the impression given by "Life's Been Good" is correct, he doesn't go around patting himself on the back for his success. He just gets on with it. Which is pretty cool.

What is cool? It's kindness, openness, quiet gentle awareness of whomever or whatever is beautiful or touching or edifying or otherwise cool in the moment.

In his Introduction to this 2004 volume of essays, guest editor Louis Menand says that an essay is good when the pain of not continuing to read it would outweigh the pain of continuing to read. It was around that point that I stopped reading Menand's Introduction. I found Moody's "Against Cool" quite painfully bad from its title to the very last word of its very last footnote. Moody says we should abandon the use of the term "cool" -- with the exception, I assume, of continuing to use it to describe ranges of temperature.

I think that's just not cool.

In The Best American Essays 1994, guest-edited by Tracy Kidder, Cynthia Ozick has an essay entitled "Rushdie in the Louvre," in which she, ostensibly, describes meeting Rushdie in the Louvre, after Rushdie has been elected a member of the Academie Universelle des Cultures. But only a handful of fragments of sentences spoken by Rushdie during that meeting held in the Louvre in his honor make their way into Ozick's essay, which has much more to do with the Louvre and terrorism and Henry James and Zola and Rushdie's security detail, which was extremely extensive at the time, than with Rushdie. I don't mean that all of those other subjects added together are given more space than Rushdie, but that each of them is given more space. I feel cheated by the title of Ozick's essay, which is pretty dull except when those few fragments of Rushdie's sentences light it up the way lightning lights up a dark cloudy sky.

Perhaps Ozick would have come up with a better essay if she'd concentrated on terrorism, given the essay a title such as "Terrorism," begun it with a short paragraph about how she met Rushdie at the Louvre, and then gotten on with the actual subject on her mind. At least then the reader wouldn't have been disappointed by an essay with a thoroughly misleading title.

By stark contrast, in the same 1994 volume of officially best American essays, Paul Theroux's "Chatwin Revisited" is actually above all about Bruce Chatwin, Theroux's deceased friend and fellow travel-writer, and it's actually quite good.