November 26, 2015

"Every year at the holidays, millions of Americans partake in a whole parallel tradition: avoiding the 'crazy uncle'..."

"... that one exhausting relative who treats every event as a chance to assault you with their fringe political ideas, hector you about your life, infuriatingly question your values. Whole articles now offer strategies on how to handle this character when the family sits down around the table.... But wait: What’s so bad about crazy uncles? Who said the holidays need to be as boring as a George Pataki rally?... Yes, it’s time to be the crazy uncle for a change...."

That's Politico, "How to BE the Crazy Uncle This Thanksgiving." That's the only title in the hate-your-family subgenre of Thanksgiving stuff(ing) I've clicked on. Basically, politicos at all websites have figured out a way to keep writing about politics while purporting to provide Thanksgiving sustenance. The fiends.

"We’re going to have to do things that we never did before. And some people are going to be upset about it."

"But I think that now everybody is feeling that security is going to rule. And so we’re going to have to do certain things that were frankly unthinkable a year ago."

It's Thanksgiving. Why are you reading a blog?

It's Thanksgiving. Why are you reading a blog? free polls

"When I first saw it, I was kind of creeped out because it was just a random person on the street with a scary mask. I don't like clowns."

Said one young woman about the man dressed as a clown who's been seen walking around Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin. People want the police to do something, but the police know the clown to be a developmentally disabled teenage boy who, they say, is "just doing this to see people's reaction," which is, of course, not a crime.

ADDED: Laws against wearing masks are not unheard of. This came up in the context of Guy Fawkes masks in the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2012:
[A]ccording to the New York Penal Law 240.35(4), it is illegal to congregate in public with two or more people while each wearing a mask or any face covering which disguises your identity. The law has existed since 1845, when tenant farmers, in response to a lowering of wheat prices, dressed up as “Indians” and covered their faces with masks in order to attack the police anonymously. There are exceptions for masquerades and other entertainment events that are deemed appropriate by the city (such as Halloween).

"When Palestinian artist Ashraf Fayadh was tried last year on blasphemy-related charges, the Saudi judges overseeing the case rejected the prosecution's request for a death sentence for apostasy."

"Instead, he was sentenced to 800 lashes and four years in prison over a book of poetry he wrote and for allegedly having illicit relations with women. An appeal was filed and the case was sent back to the lower court, but this time around judges threw out defense witness testimony, refused to accept Fayadh's repentance and on Nov. 17 sentenced him to execution for apostasy.... The case illustrates how courts in Saudi Arabia can issue vastly different punishments based on how judges interpret Islamic Shariah law.... While judges in the initial trial accepted Fayadh's repentance for anything deemed offensive to religion in his poetry book, judges in the retrial said the case was considered an instance of 'hadd' — specific crimes, such as apostasy, that have fixed punishments in Islam...."

From "Artist's death sentence in Saudi points to importance of interpretation in Islamic law" (in U.S. News & World Report).

"The opposite of ISIS" is the First Amendment, but "No principle of the First Amendment... requires us to pretend that a religiously motivated terrorist is not religious."

Writes lawprof Marci Hamilton.
... Americans can grasp that the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is decidedly not the same as the mainstream Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And there are plenty of extremist groups in the United States from neo-Nazis to Skinheads to our own homegrown religiously motivated terrorists. That means Americans can get the difference between the millions of law-abiding Muslim believers and the extremist Islamic terrorists. And we actually need to make that distinction for the sake of the millions of good citizen Muslims....

The fact that these terrorists are mobilized by religion sends a message that their apocalyptic horizon is fervently and even feverishly embraced, and that it is not open to rational debate. These are terrorists who share a rigid religious dogma, and we have a long history showing us what religious entities can and will do when they decide to root out apostates. It is horrifying. Without the religious descriptor, it is too easy to treat them as political actors rather than the dogmatic, unbending fundamentalists that they are....
That is, there's something distinctive about the way religion goes wrong when it goes wrong, and to think about it rationally, you have to take account of the way it's irrational.

Tweeting at Taranto about Trump.

Happy Thanksgiving, blog readers.

Are you reading blogs this morning, like it's a normal day? I sure am, but I love normal days. It's absurd to complain that a holiday is interrupting the flow of normal days, when there's always the option of honoring the holiday by according it equal treatment with all those other days, the non-needy just-another-day days.

November 25, 2015

Spike Lee predicts a sex strike.

"I'd like to say this: What's happening on college campuses today, you know, with what happened at the University of Missouri where the football players got together and said unless the president resigns, they weren't going to play... I think a sex strike could really work on college campuses where there’s an abundance of sexual harassment and date rapes. Second semester it’s going to happen. Once people come back from Christmas, there are going to be sex strikes at universities and colleges across this country, I believe it."

He's promoting his movie "CHI-RAQ" about a sex strike in Chicago. 

It would merge the campus anti-rape movement with the race-related protests that seem to have overshadowed it.

"Here I can really be free. I can practise my religion. I couldn’t do that in Vienna."

"I like to eat. The food here is very similar to Austria even if it’s mainly halal food. You can get ketchup here, Nutella and cornflakes."

From "Teen Islamic State pin-up girl changes her mind, is 'beaten to death.'"

When is it appropriate to appropriate?

"It's time for cultural appropriators to proudly reclaim 'culturally appropriative' as a positive, empowering term. When asked 'Isn't that cultural appropriation?' you should enthusiastically answer: 'Yes! I freely adopt any cultures I choose, and I wouldn't have it any other way!'"

Writes John, bouncing off this WaPo piece by Cathy Young piece, "To the new culture cops, everything is appropriation/Their protests ignore history, chill artistic expression and hurt diversity." Excerpt from Young:
Most critics of appropriation... say they don’t oppose engagement with other cultures if it’s done in a “culturally affirming” way. A Daily Dot article admonishes that “an authentic cultural exchange should feel free and affirming, rather than plagiarizing or thieving.” A recent post on the Tumblr “This Is Not China” declares that “cultural appropriation is not merely the act of wearing or partaking in cultural symbols & practices that do not belong to you, it’s a system of exploitation & capitalisation on cultural symbols & practices that do not a) originate from b) benefit c) circle back to the culture in question.”

It makes sense to permit behaviors that encourage empathy and genuine interest while discouraging those that caricature or mock a sampled-from culture. But such litmus tests leave ample room for hair-splitting and arbitrary judgments. One blogger’s partial defense of “Kimono Wednesdays” suggests that while it was fine to let visitors [at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston] try on the kimonos, allowing them to be photographed while wearing them was a step too far. This fine parsing of what crosses the line from appreciation into appropriation suggests a religion with elaborate purity tests.
I actually think it's fine and good to contemplate these fine distinctions, especially as you develop your own ethics and taste. I'd say that criticizing others for drawing the fine lines in different places is also a matter of ethics and taste. Young asks:
What will be declared “problematic” next? Picasso’s and Matisse’s works inspired by African art? Puccini’s “Orientalist” operas, “Madama Butterfly” and “Turandot”? Should we rid our homes of Japanese prints? Should I take offense at other people’s Russian nesting dolls?
But I think all these things deserve attention, and I think they've all been subject to critique for a long, long time. It's hardly a "what's next?" matter to bring up Picasso's use of African art. The subject of cultural appropriation is not to be brushed aside. It deserves study, reflection, analysis, and interesting, wide-ranging debate and discussion. It's one of the great topics of conversation! Don't, in the interest of freedom, censor it. Some people take it too far and become offensive in their taking of offense, but most good subjects for study and conversation touch off some intemperate speakers who love to attack others. Like, I bet what I just said — which is setting up a good topic — has touched off some of my readers to go after me in an intemperate manner.

ADDED: For reference, here's how The New York Times talked about "those ubiquitous gold-dust twins of high-priced modern art, Picasso and Matisse" and their use of African art back in 1927. Click images to enlarge:

"What would it take to break this cheap little spell and make us wake up and inquire what on earth we are doing when we make the Clinton family drama — yet again—a central part of our own politics?"

Wrote the late Christopher Hitchens in January 2008, quoted in this morning's NYT in a review of a new collection of some of his essays. (The book is "And Yet...") From the review:
It’s a shame Mr. Hitchens isn’t here to comment on Donald Trump’s political moment. He saw in the ideas behind Ross Perot’s candidacy some of what he might have distrusted in Mr. Trump’s, that is the idea that “government should give way to management.”...
Yes, "management" — I was just saying that's Trump's "stock one-word answer to queries about how he'll do something he says he will do." So I dug up the old Hitchens essay. Here. It's in The Wilson Quarterly. The Wilson Quarterly? Egad. Woodrow Wilson. That name is mud this week. And the Hitchens essay is "Bring on the Mud/Mud-slinging in politics is a time-honored American tradition. But is there anything so bad about throwing a few political barbs?" It's not mostly about government as management, and the whole thing is on such a high level that I want to weep for our loss:
When asked, millions of people will say that the two parties are (a) so much alike as to be virtually indistinguishable, and (b) too much occupied in partisan warfare. The two “perceptions” are not necessarily opposed: Party conflict could easily be more and more disagreement about less and less—what Sigmund Freud characterized in another context as “the narcissism of the small difference.” For a while, about a decade ago, the combination of those two large, vague impressions gave rise to the existence of a quasi-plausible third party, led by Ross Perot, which argued, in effect, that politics should be above politics, and that government should give way to management. That illusion, like the touching belief that one party is always better than the other, is compounded of near-equal parts naiveté and cynicism.
By the way, the phrase "his name is mud" goes back to 1823:
1823   ‘J. Bee’ Slang 122   Mud, a stupid twaddling fellow. ‘And his name is mud!’ ejaculated upon the conclusion of a silly oration, or of a leader in the Courier.
But some people like to tie the phrase to Samuel Mudd, the doctor who treated the leg John Wilkes Booth broke. Whether Booth broke the leg when he jumped onto the stage in Ford's Theatre is a separate question and one question too many for this post of many questions.

Did Donald Trump — from his midtown penthouse — watch people jump from the World Trade Center on 9/11?

He says he did:
"Many people jumped and I witnessed it, I watched that. I have a view -- a view in my apartment that was specifically aimed at the World Trade Center," Trump said Monday during a rally in Columbus, Ohio.

"And I watched those people jump and I watched the second plane hit ... I saw the second plane hit the building and I said, 'Wow that's unbelievable,'" Trump continued.
CNN seems dubious:
The Republican presidential contender lives in Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, more than four miles away from where the World Trade Center towers once stood. Trump has lived in the 5th Avenue tower since before the attacks, according to media reports pre-dating 9/11.

The Trump campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment asking how Trump witnessed people jumping out of the Twin Towers from more than four miles away.
Dubious... or they just don't want to refer to the possibility I brought up the other day in this post about Trump's statement that he watched people celebrating on rooftops in Jersey City: he has telescopes. If Trump has a beautiful view "specifically aimed" at downtown Manhattan, doesn't he have telescopes (and high-power binoculars) to take in all the many sights you can get from that angle? What percentage of residents of Manhattan high-raise buildings have devices to assist their vision? They may brag about their view from high-floor windows, but it's less likely they'd flaunt the technology for enhancing that view. But I think it's pretty standard.

Here's a NYT article from 1990: "Telescopes for (Sneaky) City Views":
"It all boils down to the voyeurism thing," said Mark Abrams, the manager of Clairmont-Nichols, a Manhattan optical store that has a dozen telescopes on tripods with a straight-shot view across the street. "Sales are pretty good; there's interest out there."...

"It gives you a special kind of vision that you ordinarily wouldn't see," said Michael de Santis, an interior decorator. "It brings the Statue of Liberty in closer, the World Trade Center, the bridges. When you see it that close, it's so much better."
The World Trade Center.
Better yet are camera attachments and specially coated low-light lenses that make the dimmest apartments seem as bright as high noon, but not to the people who live there.... It took Mr. Abrams a few days to figure out why so many residents of one high-rise apartment building on East 58th Street were buying binoculars. It turned out that the tenants in a building nearby were sunbathing on the roof in the nude. "We're not selling morality here," Mr. Abrams said. "We're selling binoculars and telescopes."...

Bob Evans, a salesman at Clairmont-Nichols, said his fourth-floor apartment had an unobstructed view of a woman's apartment on the third floor across the street. "I got one of those SS-80's over there, 66 power," he said, referring to a $697 telescope. "I could read the numbers right off the remote control on her TV. Phenomenal."...
ADDED: Consider the possibility that Donald Trump has his own video, shot with his own equipment on 9/11, and he will eventually reveal it, after his antagonists have committed themselves to accusations of lying and delusion.

November 24, 2015

"How Adele makes middle-aged music cool for young people."

 A Slate article. I haven't read it yet but I think the answer is that "middle-aged music" is just something a lot of people want to be freed to like.

The author, Carl Wilson (not the dead Beach Boy, I presume)  is "concerned the younger generation may be suffering alarmingly low levels of acerbity."
Even teenagers and college students are capable of looking back gauzily on what they’ve recently grown out of or projecting themselves into the future and retroactively romanticizing where they are right now. The young are often the greatest sentimentalists, particularly in times of instability. (Do economic inequality, climate change, and maybe Snapchat help explain their eagerness for Adele, like YA novelist John Green, to make them weep over old, eternal clichés?)
 Enough of that. Here's the late Beach Boy Carl Wilson:

Best song ever. Does age mean anything at all?

"Carl XVI Gustaf, the reigning king of Sweden, said... 'All bathtubs should be banned... Just imagine it!'"

"Sweden’s 'green king' said he had been forced just that morning to take a bath in his showerless hotel room..."
“It took a lot of fresh water and energy,” he said. “It struck me so clearly: It’s not wise that I have to do this. I really felt ashamed then, I really did.”

"Hillary Clinton has agreed to stop using the term 'illegal immigrants.'"

"Yes, I will... That was a poor choice of words... They have names, and hopes and dreams that deserve to be respected," said Hillary Clinton, in an assurance that I'm dumbfounded seeing she had to be pushed to give.

I find it impossible to believe she was ignorant of the objections to the term "illegal immigrants." She had to have been choosing to say it. But why? I assume she wanted to signal some toughness.

"A Portage company will stop providing portable toilets used by the homeless at the [Madison] City-County Building... due to health hazards, behavior problems, and fears for employee safety."

"The Country Plumber notified the city it will stop providing and servicing the toilets when a contract expires on Dec. 31 due to finding massive quantities of hypodermic needles, and users missing the toilet, smearing feces, and leaving condoms and other sex leftovers, a memo from the Parks Division to Mayor Paul Soglin says."

And other sex leftovers...

UPDATE: seems to have flushed the story. The link doesn't work and I can't find the story searching the site. I assure you that I got the quoted material at the link that doesn't work anymore.

"Man kicked out of Camp Randall pranks UW police with 240 coconut doughnuts."

"This was meant as a harmless way to both show general gratitude for the job you do (which is awesome) but slight disdain for my treatment Saturday (which was not so awesome)," said the anonymous man. "Donuts are awesome, but coconut donuts are not so awesome."

"I believe this is a moment that can build bridges of understanding rather than become a barrier of misunderstanding."

Said Rahm Emanuel.

It's "fine to be passionate, but it is essential that it remain peaceful."

"Could dark matter make Earth 'hairy'?"

"Dark matter could form 'hairs' around planets, like Earth, according to NASA. The invisible, mysterious matter – which is thought to make up about 85 percent of all the matter in the universe – forms long “fine-grained streams” of particles.... These hairy filaments could help scientists unlock more insights into the mystery of dark matter. 'If we could pinpoint the location of the root of these hairs, we could potentially send a probe there and get a bonanza of data about dark matter'...."