May 27, 2018

"Most scientists today live in cities and have little direct experience with wild plants and animals, and most biology textbooks now focus more on molecules, cells and internal anatomy..."

"... than on the diversity and habits of species. It has even become fashionable among some educators to belittle the teaching of natural history and scientific facts that can be 'regurgitated' on tests in favor of theoretical concepts. That attitude may work for armchair physics or mathematics, but it isn’t enough for understanding complex organisms and ecosystems in the real world. Computer models and equations are of little use without details from the field to test them against."

That's from a NYT piece by a professor of natural sciences (Curt Stager) who notes a study that "documented a 76 percent decline in the total seasonal biomass of flying insects netted at 63 locations in Germany over the last three decades, asks "Are we in the midst of a global insect Armageddon that most of us have failed to notice?," and warns — quoting Edmund O. Wilson, "If all mankind were to disappear, the world would regenerate back to the rich state of equilibrium that existed ten thousand years ago. If insects were to vanish, the environment would collapse into chaos."

I'm worried about the insects, but I'm also worried about the city-living scientists and their tendency toward "armchair physics," "mathematics," and "[c]omputer models and equations" that fall short in understanding the complexities of the real world. I couldn't help thinking about the climate change computer modeling and the consensus of (city-dwelling?) scientists.

The insects are an ecosystem to be understood and — in a way — the scientists are also an ecosystem to be understood. They thrive in the city, doing math with computers.

Amazon's Alexa recorded a conversation between a man and his wife and sent the recording to the man's employer.

The NYT reports:
Now, Amazon says it knows what happened: As the woman, identified only as Danielle, chatted away with her husband, the device’s virtual assistant, Alexa, mistakenly heard a series of requests and commands to send the recording as a voice message to one of the husband’s employees.

“Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like ‘Alexa,’” Amazon said in a statement. “Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a ‘send message’ request. At which point, Alexa said out loud ‘To whom?’ At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customer’s contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, ‘[contact name], right?’ Alexa then interpreted background conversation as ‘right’. As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”
That reminds me: The other day, I was using my iPad and not intending to engage with Siri and the Siri screen came up. And it just said — I kid you not — "Fuck you."

The worst movie I've ever seen links the newly accused Morgan Freeman with the key Harvey Weinstein accuser Ashley Judd.

Last fall, when the stories about Harvey Weinstein were breaking, I blogged about him repeatedly and got pushback from commenters who thought my blogging was out of proportion to his importance and to the significance of his alleged misdeeds. Sample comment on a post titled "Not even one 'Weekend Update' joke about Harvey Weinstein on last night's 'SNL'":
We talked about Benghazi for months and months despite the lower death toll and lack of new information.

But Ann buries [the Las Vegas massacre] under a flood of Weinstein topics. Not even our pussy grabber in chief got such attention about his harrassing ways.
This is the kind of comment that caused me to abandon comments when I tried them in the first few months of the blog, this insinuation that I'm doing something devious by blogging about one thing when something else is more important and that this imbalance reveals that I favor one political side over another. When I restarted comments, later that year, I worked on not taking that bait. I write about what I find bloggable, following my various instincts. You can analyze what's happening in my head, but I don't need to wreck my momentum to examine and articulate why I'm writing about this and not that.

But on the Weinstein topic, I see that I did react, perhaps because that post is premised on the idea that the Weinstein story is so important that failing to address it on "SNL" means something. That is (I can see now), I was doing to "SNL" what commenters have done to me. Anyway, I wrote this in the comments:
The idea that people don't know Weinstein is ridiculous. The movie business is one of the businesses that Americans are most interested in. We consume the product in mass quantities.

Whether you recognize the name of one of the most prominent executives or not, his misdeeds are important news, especially since he was making decisions on what went into a product that we ingested into our brain and our culture.

Even if you yourself don't watch movies, you should care about what's going into the head of your fellow citizen.

Those who are trying to tell me I'm giving to much importance to this story could try addressing these reasons, not just emptily complaining that I'm giving this too much attention. I suspect that you are agitated by how damaging this story might be to something you care about.

By the way, I saw the movie Ashley Judd made at the time she had her encounter with HW. It was called "Kiss the Girls," and it came out in the 90s, when I consumed a lot of movies. I saw it because it was touted as "neo-noir" and supposed to be excellent. But afterward, somebody just reminded me, I said it was the wors[t] movie I'd ever seen. I'd forgotten that, but the person I saw the movie with remembered and said: "you thought it was sexualizing female victims and trying to titillate the audience when the women are crime victims, while acting like it’s taking a perspective that is against crime."
Ashley Judd was important. Three days before that SNL-didn't-talk-about-it post of mine, the NYT wrote about Judd in "Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades."
When Mr. Weinstein invited Ms. Judd to breakfast in Beverly Hills, she had been shooting the thriller “Kiss the Girls” all night, but the meeting seemed too important to miss. After arriving at the hotel lobby, she was surprised to learn that they would be talking in his suite; she decided to order cereal, she said, so the food would come quickly and she could leave.

Mr. Weinstein soon issued invitation after invitation, she said. Could he give her a massage? When she refused, he suggested a shoulder rub. She rejected that too, she recalled. He steered her toward a closet, asking her to help pick out his clothing for the day, and then toward the bathroom. Would she watch him take a shower? she remembered him saying.

“I said no, a lot of ways, a lot of times, and he always came back at me with some new ask,” Ms. Judd said. “It was all this bargaining, this coercive bargaining.”...
"Kiss the Girls" triggered me when I saw it in 1997.  I thought, as my movie companion vividly remembered, "it was sexualizing female victims and trying to titillate the audience when the women are crime victims, while acting like it’s taking a perspective that is against crime."

The reason I'm talking about all of this now is that Judd's co-star in "Kiss the Girls" was Morgan Freeman, and this week, the big news is "Women accuse Morgan Freeman of inappropriate behavior, harassment" (CNN). (And here's a NYT article about the CNN reporter, "She Went to Interview Morgan Freeman. Her Story Became Much Bigger.")

I just wanted to note the Judd connection and to restate my hatred of that terrible movie, the one I called the worst movie I'd ever seen.

May 26, 2018

"Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution" and "Elia Kazan: A Biography."

Books Harvey Weinstein carried to his arraignment, reported in The Daily Beast.
Could he have imagined that he would be allowed to carry the books through his booking? Did the mogul picture himself sitting around reading during the brief time before he was released on prearranged bail? Was he at all surprised that he only got as far as the front desk with them?

“Get rid of them now,” a lieutenant commanded.... “I’m guessing those books were placed by some consultant,” the lieutenant said. “Why wouldn’t you leave in the car what you wouldn’t be allowed to take? I’m sure it was some stylist.”
If you were "styling" the movie mogul for his rape arraignment, what 2 books would you put in his hands? "Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Revolution" and "Elia Kazan: A Biography"???

I'd assume he was anticipating downtime and didn't want to be bored. 2 books (actually, there was a third, unnamed, book) is way more reading than makes any sense. So maybe he was trying to send a message. If so, the message is: I love show business.

"A street fight between three men and a single fighter... ended when two men were knocked unconscious and the lone fighter fled before police arrived."

The Wisconsin State Journal reports on something that happened here in Madison (on State Street).

The scrappy lone fighter is described as 5'8" or 5'9" and 145 pounds.

When the café opens at 6:30 a.m....


... and you had to wait 5 hours to be the first person in the door.

"South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un held a surprise meeting at the demilitarized zone Saturday aimed at keeping inter-Korean relations, and a possible summit between Mr. Kim and President Donald Trump, on track."

"South Korea’s presidential office announced the two-hour meeting after it had wrapped up, saying the two leaders met on the north side of the demilitarized zone and discussed how to successfully stage a summit between Messrs. Trump and Kim" (WSJ).

"While his wife, the actress Cheryl Hines, waited in the car, Robert Kennedy Jr. met with Sirhan for three hours..."

"... he revealed to The Washington Post last week. It was the culmination of months of research by Kennedy into the assassination, including speaking with witnesses and reading the autopsy and police reports. 'I got to a place where I had to see Sirhan,' Kennedy said. He would not discuss the specifics of their conversation. But when it was over, Kennedy had joined those who believe there was a second gunman, and that it was not Sirhan who killed his father. 'I went there because I was curious and disturbed by what I had seen in the evidence,' said Kennedy, an environmental lawyer and the third oldest of his father’s 11 children. 'I was disturbed that the wrong person might have been convicted of killing my father. My father was the chief law enforcement officer in this country. I think it would have disturbed him if somebody was put in jail for a crime they didn’t commit.'"

I guess it's news that the son of RFK feels like that, but other than that, it's The Washington Post flogging conspiracy theory titillation.

"In Portland, Ore., organizers of the 'Reparations Happy Hour' invited black, brown and indigenous people to a bar and handed them $10 bills as they arrived..."

"... a small but symbolic gift mostly funded by white people who were asked not to attend.... 'It was only $10, but when I saw them I saw their eyes light up,' he said. 'What I saw there was that people felt like they were finally seen.'"

The NYT reports.

So let's see... white people get off making black people "light up" by handing them money — a 10 dollar bill.


ADDED: What if men at a bar funded the practice of offering a $10 bill to women who would come in? I guess some women would step up to take the bill, but I assume a lot of women, like me, would scoff and think you are so pathetic and quit insulting me.

ALSO: This reminds me of those affirmative action bake sales where opponents of affirmative action offer cookies for sale for, say, $1 if you're black and $5 if you are white. Except liberals rankle at that.

"He is prone to unhinged Twitter eruptions. He can’t handle criticism. He scolds the news media for its purported dishonesty..."

"... and threatens to create a Soviet-like apparatus to keep tabs on it. He suckers people to fork over cash in exchange for promises he hasn’t kept. He’s a billionaire whose business flirts with bankruptcy. He’s sold himself as an establishment-crushing iconoclast when he’s really little more than an unusually accomplished B.S. artist. His legions of devotees are fanatics and, let’s face it, a bit stupid. I speak of Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, the Donald Trump of Silicon Valley."

Writes Bret Stephens at the NYT.

"Ireland is set to liberalize some of the world’s most restrictive abortion laws after exit polls suggested a landslide vote for change..."

Reuters reports.
Voters were asked if they wish to scrap the eighth amendment to the constitution, which gives an unborn child and its mother equal rights to life. The consequent prohibition on abortion was partly lifted in 2013 for cases where the mother’s life was in danger....

“Yes” campaigners argued that with over 3,000 women traveling to Britain each year for terminations - a right enshrined in a 1992 referendum - and others ordering pills illegally online, abortion is already a reality in Ireland.

The federal government did not lose 1,475 migrant children.

Speaking of headlines... did you notice "The feds lost — yes, lost — 1,475 migrant children" (in USA Today)?

Here's Rich Lowry (National Review) asking "Did the Feds Lose 1,475 Migrant Children?"
[T]hese children weren’t in HHS custody. They were placed with sponsors that HHS vetted. It’d obviously be better if HHS could locate all of the sponsors in its follow-up. Some of them surely moved, and perhaps others, if they or family members are illegal immigrants, may not want to be in further contact with authorities.

Hillary Clinton does not want to be CEO of Facebook.

I know I'm partly to blame for linking to a headline that's in this form because it's clickbait, but I've got to complain about "Hillary Clinton Wants to Be CEO of Facebook." It's getting attention, perhaps as a set-up for jokes about her wretched like-with-a-cloth relationship with technology.

But Hillary was doing a "lightning round" interview in which the question was sprung on her, "If you could be a CEO of any company right now, what would you choose?"

She had to say something fast, and she blurted out what is the name of the most conspicuous company, Facebook. That doesn't mean she wants to run the company. It just means she thought of an answer to the question and she had some ideas about how to use the question to get to some things she had ideas about, which is what she did.
The former secretary of state explained that Facebook “is the biggest news platform in the world.” “Most people in our country get their news, true or not, from Facebook,” she said. “It really is critical to our democracy that people get accurate information on which to make decisions.”
Some people think it was outrageous for Donald Trump to apply for the job of President when he had no experience in political office, and maybe it was, because the application worked and now we've got him running the country, whether he knows what he's doing or not. But here comes Hillary purporting to offer to run a company when she has no experience or expertise in the area. She openly states that she wants it because it's where the power is.

Except she doesn't really want it, not the actual responsibility of running Facebook.

And how ridiculous to think that Facebook could solve its problems of how to function in a democracy by installing as its leader a person completely identified with one political party!

"Given the torrent of revelations of abuse against women in the #MeToo era, the [term 'wife-beater,' for the sleeveless undershirt] suddenly seemed grossly inappropriate."

That line was a forehead-slapper for me. It's by Moises Velasquez-Manoff in "Are We Really Still Calling This Shirt a ‘Wife Beater’?" (NYT).

The word that got me was "suddenly." Is Velasquez-Manoff telling us that he just noticed the transgressive violent edge to "wife-beater"? It's right out there. If you think it's okay that you didn't mind until #MeToo woke you up, then why should we condemn the men who are at the receiving end of #MeToo accusations? Without #MeToo to enlighten them, they didn't realize how bad their behavior was. Why not indulgently advise Harvey Weinstein, et al., to go and sin no more?

I've never not noticed that "wife-beater" is a terrible joke of a name for a shirt. And that's what it is, a joke:
“People aren’t calling it a wife beater because they believe that beating your wife is O.K.,” Adam Klein, an assistant professor of communication studies at Pace University, told me. But the willingness to casually evoke violence against women implies a strange double standard. “We accept misogyny as cool,” he said, even as we know that racism is unacceptable.
The question is whether you think it's a good joke. You know what it is. You hear the words, but did you/do you think it's cool? And "'We accept misogyny as cool,' he said, even as we know that racism is unacceptable" is a nonsequitur: Those who know racism is unacceptable may still use "hipster racism" — expressions that are racist but are thought not to  convey actual racism because they come from someone who is understood not to be racist. It is accepted as cool (by some!). And it's the same way with misogyny. Even among those who know it's unacceptable, it can feel cool. It's a joke. It's hipster sexism.

I think it's a bad joke, though I can picture myself in a situation, with an intimate friend, where I might let loose and say, "I see you're wearing your wife-beater." But as a casual, general term, it sounds like you don't care about domestic violence or you think you have hipster privilege... and that's not a good look.

May 25, 2018

Trump's antagonists are enjoying themselves over the break in the momentum toward a North Korean deal.

But the process isn't over, and I assume it's a dealmaking dance in which breaks like this a part of the process. Isn't that what Trump wrote in "The Art of the Deal" and has talked about innumerable times? Trump haters shouldn't exult over his failure until they see how this ends. And maybe even then, they shouldn't exult. Don't we all want a better, safer world? Or is seeing Trump fail better?

"The increasingly irascible Tesla chief executive went on a 24-hour, anti-media tirade from Wednesday to Thursday..."

"... culminating in an online poll that saw nearly 700,000 people showing their support for his plans to create a website to vet journalists’ credibility," the NY Post reports.
[Elon] Musk said that he is thinking of a site where “the public can rate the core truth” of news stories, as well as track “the credibility score” of journalists and publications. The website would be called “Pravda,” the Russian word for “truth” and also the name of the official newspaper of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party.....

“Come on media, you can do it!” Musk taunted. “Get more people to vote for you. You are literally the media.”
Come on, media, drive traffic to my new website. You can do it!

"Once the blaze was doused, firefighter Thomas Hunt’s eyes zeroed in on the ashes: clothing, jewelry, and a human nose and fingers appeared to be in the smoking pile."

"'Why are you burning a body?' the disturbed firefighter asked the homeowner, Ouissem Medouni, Hunt would later testify. 'It’s a sheep,' Medouni, a French Algerian financial analyst, replied. 'Bollocks,' the firefighter answered. Later, Hunt would tell a court Medouni then insisted the remains were from an animal, but that a look of 'resignation' crossed his face, as if 'the game’s up.'"

From "A London couple’s shared delusions led to the torture and death of French au pair" (WaPo).
[T]he judge in the case noted the crime was a remarkably rare instance of “folie a deux” — or dual psychosis. [Sabrina] Kouider, diagnosed with depression and borderline personality disorder, had affected [infected?] her lover with her own unhinged delusions. The testimony presented at the trial showed the couple submitted the young au pair to starvation and brutal torture until she admitted her part in the fantasy that had twisted both Medouni’s and Kouider’s minds — a convoluted paranoia about Kouider’s ex-boyfriend, a famous Irish pop star.... Mark Walton... of the 1990s boy group Boyzone....

Fifteen months before her death, Sophie Lionnet had come to work for Kouider and Medouni..... At the trial, prosecutors stated that during the last six weeks of Lionnet’s life, the couple had become convinced Walton had seduced Lionnet, and that in return the au pair was drugging Medouni so Walton could sneak into the home and sexually abuse Medouni.

The couple began starving Lionnet and subjecting the au pair to brutal interrogation sessions, beating and dunking her head underwater until she admitted she was in league with Walton, according to testimony. The couple recorded the sessions on their cellphones. Police recovered eight hours of interrogation footage.

“So where is [Mark Walton’s] house? Because you fancy him, he is charming. . . . I don’t think he abused you, you wanted it,” Kouider told the au pair in one of the final sessions, according to the Telegraph. “And whenever you come back to the house, I smell sex.”

"Rachel Dolezal, the white woman who posed as black, charged with welfare fraud."

WaPo reports.
The investigation into Dolezal began in March of last year when an investigator from the Washington Department of Social and Health Services learned she had written a book that had been published.... At this time, Dolezal had been reporting a monthly income of less than $500.... In total, between August 2015 and September 2017, Dolezal’s bank statements showed she had deposited nearly $84,000, documents said. Investigators believe the money came from her book, speaking engagements and selling art, soaps and handmade dolls....

"Behind the Scenes of Harvey Weinstein’s Arrest."

By Ronan Farrow at The New Yorker.
After a seven-month investigation, the producer Harvey Weinstein turned himself in to the New York Police Department's First Precinct on Friday morning to face sexual-assault charges. According to law-enforcement officials, the charges against Weinstein are based on the allegations of two women. One is Lucia Evans, a marketing consultant and former aspiring actress who told The New Yorker last October that Weinstein sexually assaulted her in his Manhattan office, in 2004. The day after the publication of that story, police detectives began trying to meet with Evans about filing a formal criminal complaint. One of the police sources called Evans “a highly credible witness with corroborating evidence.” In an interview on Thursday, Evans confirmed that she was pressing charges against Weinstein. “At a certain point, you have to think about the greater good of humanity, of womankind,” she told me....

The day after the New Yorker story was published online, two detectives drove to upstate New York to visit Evans’s parents at their home.... The officers had told her that they might not be able to bring charges without her coöperation. “They said that if I do nothing, Harvey would walk,” Evans said. “I think the significance hit all at once.” Evans said that she initially felt “proud to be a part of this movement, just knowing I could do this for everybody.”...

After months of what Evans described as sleepless nights, she decided to proceed with the complaint against Weinstein. “We gave her time,” a source involved in the investigation said. “We worked with her gradually to make sure she was comfortable. Even when she came in and told us the story in the D.A.’s office of what had happened, we still weren’t, like, ‘Boom, it’s going forward.’ ”

"Smoked 3 joints been bothered by non cops 6 times... Suck my d--k San Antonio... San Antonio sucks and so do their tacos."

Tweeted the comedian Ronald Funches, quoted in "Comedian unhappy with San Antonio shows leaves a crude message for the city" (LMT online).

I'm blogging this because: 1. I think the contrast between the insults and the headlines is funny, 2. I can't tell exactly how hostile/self-critical Funches really is and the complexity intrigues me, 3. The concept of "non cops," 4. The specificity of the numbers 3 and 6 and the issue whether details like that are essential to humor, 5. This is the second post of the day and the first post had brats and this one has tacos.