July 31, 2021

"The White House is frustrated with what it views as alarmist, and in some instances flat-out misleading, news coverage about the Delta variant...."

"In some instances, poorly framed headlines and cable news chyrons wrongly suggested that vaccinated Americans are just as likely to spread the disease as unvaccinated Americans. But that isn't quite the case. Vaccinated Americans still have a far lower chance of becoming infected with the coronavirus and, thus, they are responsible for far less spread of the disease. 'The media's coverage doesn't match the moment,' one of the Biden officials told me. 'It has been hyperbolic and frankly irresponsible in a way that hardens vaccine hesitancy. The biggest problem we have is unvaccinated people getting and spreading the virus.'"

From "White House blasts Covid coverage" by Oliver Darcy (CNN).

The Biden Administration gets such sympathetic coverage, but they're still unhappy with the news media. That's how bad the new media are. The coverage of the new CDC data really is awful. 

#WokeOlympics: "Why do we allow the people who just want to bitch to always win?"

After the excellent line I used in the post title, the audience fails to react. A little while later, at 2:30, after another failure of the audience to enjoy his joke about how nobody seems to get jokes anymore, he bitches, "Where did we get this crowd?"

Comparing what happened to Simone Biles to a golfer getting the "yips."

I'm seeing this comparison all over the place, but I'll just quote this, which came in the email after one of the several posts I'd written about Biles. 

A reader named Leland wrote: 

Hi Althouse— great golfers often get the yips, the inability to execute the movements necessary to strike the ball—which is just sitting there, isn’t it—in a way necessary to get it in the hole. Tom Watson and Ben Hogan are examples of Greats who lost the ability to make short putts. Ian Baker Finch lost his game completely. Baseball players can get the yips, too—think of Chuck Knobloch and Steve Sax, who suddenly couldn’t control short throws to first. Simone Biles, after years of performing at the highest level, has got the yips. I give her high marks for honesty and realism in this moment. It is startling to see it happen at the Olympics when she was doing the impossible earlier this year, but this is a story familiar to anyone who follows golf or baseball.

Maybe there are some similarities. Who understands the mysteries of the connection between the mind and the body and what happens in the cases of the most accomplished and focused human beings?

But I just want to sketch out the differences:

1. Professional golfers are mature adults. Women's gymnastics is a girls' sport. Little girls are selected and trained, their body and mind are shaped to this performance. At adulthood, the body is past peak for gymnastics purposes, and the mind, still growing into maturity, has new reason to surge past the gymnastics-specific format that had been drummed into the girl since early childhood.

2. Unlike golf, gymnastics is extremely dangerous, and the mind must not interfere with the task. Unlike the "yips" in golf, a normal mind in an adult body rationally rebels against the demands of gymnastics. The yips are interesting because they happen when the thing that needs to be done is easy.

3. Professional golfers own themselves. They are independent contractors, entering tournaments in the hope of winning big money. The stakes affect the mind, and it's tough to control, and sometimes something called the "yips" intrudes. But it's the pressure, not any danger, that leads to a mind-body screwup, and the golfer has absolute confidence that it's all worth it for that money that will be his if he prevails. The worst that can happen is that he goes home with a lot less money (or no money at all). But the young gymnast is in it because adults trained and encouraged her. Their ambitions are mixed up with hers in a complex way, and they've led her down a very dangerous path. She hasn't owned herself, and she doesn't get a direct and huge payout for her performance on any given day. Yes, there is an amorphous economic reward in the future. But it's not the golfer's immediate this-for-that.

"Living with a virus — rather than defeating it — is not emotionally satisfying. It does not, in our minds, remove the threat."

"But the truth is: humans have no choice but to live with viruses. We always have. I’ve lived with a potentially fatal one buried in my bone marrow for almost 30 years. I still test HIV-positive. Almost certainly, I will die HIV-positive. But I will not die of HIV. And that’s ok. As long as I can prevent it wreaking havoc on my immune system, and ruining and ending my life, I’m content to live with it. We’re almost friends at this point. These viruses challenge the psyche, and the trick, it seems to me, is not to deny their power and danger, but to see past them to the real goal: the living of your life. If you are not careful, this one viral threat can crowd out all other perspectives, distort your judgment of risk, and cause you to be paralyzed by excessive caution and fear. But defeating a virus often does mean living with it. We already do this with the flu. There’s no reason we can’t do it with Covid as well."

Writes Andrew Sullivan in "Let It Rip/How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Live With The Virus" (Substack).

"Leibovitz... is worshipful. Riesman is relentlessly debunking, if not desecrating. Leibovitz credits [Stan] Lee with reawakening 'America’s moral imagination.'"

"Riesman hammers on the notion of Lee as a credit thief. Published as part of Yale’s Jewish Lives series, Leibovitz’s book presents Lee as the contemporary equivalent of Harold Bloom’s J: Spider-Man is 'a direct descendant' of Cain, Mr. Fantastic is 'a nuclear age Hasid,' Iron Man embodies 'a stern reminder, drawn from the core of Jewish theology, that redemption comes only when human beings get together and pursue common goals.' With regard to The Fantastic Four, Leibovitz writes, 'anyone with even a hint of familiarity with the Bible would recognize the pattern of the flawed and conflicted leaders wrestling with their stiff-necked people.' Lee’s comic books are like Bob Dylan’s songs, 'an ongoing dialogue with the artist that mirrors the ancient Talmudic logic of constant conversation.' Riesman makes no such elevated claims, although he may be said to contribute to the conversation when he notes that, while Lee’s immigrant parents were observant Jews, Lee himself 'felt no kinship with the Jewish community and was allergic to the very idea of religion.' Riesman is most insistent in questioning Lee’s integrity, specifically with regard to [Jack] Kirby, considering it 'very possible, maybe even probable, that the characters and plots Stan was famous for all sprang from the brain and pen of Kirby,' adding that 'it’s already provable that Stan lied blatantly and often about Kirby’s contribution to their comics together.'"

From "Marvel’s Ringmaster/Under Stan Lee’s guidance, Marvel marketed not only its characters but also the men who created them" by J. Hoberman (NYRB), which reviewers "True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee" by Abraham Riesman and  "Stan Lee: A Life in Comics" by Liel Leibovitz.

"People sometimes send us pieces that were deliberately made to be bad, and you can usually see right through that. It's fake bad art, and it shows."

Said Louise Sacco, the permanent acting interim director of the Museum of Bad Art, quoted in "Treasures from the Museum of Bad Art" (CBS).

The article is from 2015. Some readers will know why I'm thinking about it today.

Click through and scroll to see what sort of badness is museum-worthy. It must be "sincere and original, and something went wrong in a way that's interesting." 

I laughed a lot looking at these pictures — hardest at "President Kennedy Eating Ice Cream":

It's obvious what went wrong there. It's the same thing that went wrong with most of the examples at the link and that, once you think about it, causes the interestingness to fade. The painter was looking at a photograph of a person frozen in action. 

There's a particular way the camera captures gesture and expression: in a snap. But a painting develops over time. What is the artist observing — other than the painting itself — during this time? You could paint entirely from your mind, remembering or imagining. And you can have something you glance at now and then, without attempting to reproduce it. 

But if you are going to stare intently at this thing and make it into a painting, you have a special problem. You could become analytical and translate what you see into something that comes from your brain — like Cezanne painting a bowl of fruit. But let's assume you're just devoting your time to copying what you see. If it's a real person, that person is going to live and breathe, and they're not going to be in the middle of smiling or dancing or licking ice cream! 

You'll produce a portrait that might be good or bad, but we'll be able to tell that it was painted from a live model. If you paint from a photograph that's a portrait, you might get away with it. But if you paint from a photograph that captures expression and gestures and you do it with an intent simply to reproduce it, it will be bad. You are perverting your humanity with laborious copying of what only a camera can do, and we feel revulsion. We must laugh at your work product to escape despair. 

ADDED: Is that Kennedy photograph the reason for all of Biden's posing with ice cream cones?

I'll have a double scoop of the plagiarism swirl.

ALSO: Here's a Reddit thread from a couple years ago that displays and discusses the photograph of JFK. The photo is from August 1963. Somebody says "Probably the last ice cream he ever ate" and somebody else says "Brain freeze."

July 30, 2021

Primrose.

IMG_6336

A fresh keyboard.

How long do you put up with an old keyboard before you face reality and order a new one? I've seen keyboards fail before. It's always one key or 2 or 3 keys that get balky and then don't work at all. I once had a keyboard that failed beginning with the space bar. You face up to that really quickly. Another time, the "u" failed. That too is hard to work around. But this time it was the square brackets. For months, I have been working around the lack of square brackets keys. I need them whenever I'm shortening quotes and must supplement words or adjust capital letters. But what I've been doing is going to another document and cutting brackets out then pasting them into the new document. It's absurd how many times I have done this before taking 2 minutes to order a new keyboard. Now, the keyboard is here and I can handle quotes with ease once again. Let me try:

Human meat was typically prepared two ways: roasted or boiled.... [B]odies [were cut] into quarters with a bamboo knife, severing the head and the limbs from the trunk.... "The head is first carefully shaved . . . then boiled, as are the intestines, in ceramic cooking pots. Regarding the meat proper and the internal organs, they are placed on a large wooden grill under which a fire is lit.... [T]he meat... is divided among all those present. Whatever is not eaten on the spot is set aside in the women’s baskets and used as [food] the next day. As far as the bones are concerned, they are broken and their marrow, of which the women are particularly fond, is sucked."

That quote, like the quote in the post 5 posts down, is from the book I'm reading David Grann's "The Lost City of Z."

5:51 a.m.

IMG_6331

"Biles need only watch the documentary The Last Dance, which features [Michael] Jordan alone in a mansion drinking enormous glasses of alcohol and hating everybody..."

"... to understand that there is a cost to valorizing competition to the exclusion of everything else. [Tiger] Woods’s career self-imploded in a way that seemed like a direct response to the punishing mentality required to dominate every tournament — which didn’t stop the emergence of the narrative that he had to start winning again in order to redeem himself. There are surely superathletes who avoid becoming alienated head cases (Roger Federer seems like a pretty well-balanced individual). But clearly, there is a severe mental toll, oddly underexamined in our sports-obsessed culture, that comes from a life of perpetually breaking the very limits of what it means to be human, with a human’s emotions and vulnerabilities."

From "The One Limit Simone Biles Wouldn’t Break" by Ryu Spaeth (NY Magazine). 

"Let’s tear this horrible glittering Schwarma down once and for all."

A comment on "The Vessel Has Closed Again After a Fourth Suicide" (NY Magazine). 

You know The Vessel?

And you know the shawarma....

UPDATE: From the NY Post: 

“There were lots of tourists around. The kid was racing up the stairs with his younger sister and having a blast, having so much fun,’’ said a security guard at the Manhattan tourist attraction to The Post on Friday, a day after fatal jump.

“One of my colleagues told them, ‘I know it’s fun and stuff, but you are not allowed to run in the Vessel,’ and, ‘Stay with your parents.’ Somehow, when he got to Level Eight, he jumped,” the guard said of the teen from upscale Livingston, New Jersey.

5:52 a.m.

IMG_6334

"The sauba ants that could reduce the men’s clothes and rucksacks to threads in a single night. The ticks that attached like leeches..."

"... (another scourge) and the red hairy chiggers that consumed human tissue. The cyanide-squirting millipedes. The parasitic worms that caused blindness. The berne flies that drove their ovipositors through clothing and deposited larval eggs that hatched and burrowed under the skin. The almost invisible biting flies called piums that left the explorers’ bodies covered in lesions. Then there were the 'kissing bugs,' which bite their victim on the lips, transferring a protozoan called Trypanosoma cruzi; twenty years later, the person, thinking he had escaped the jungle unharmed, would begin to die of heart or brain swelling. Nothing, though, was more hazardous than the mosquitoes. They transmitted everything from malaria to 'bone-crusher' fever to elephantiasis to yellow fever."

I'm reading "The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon" by David Grann.

Is this the most obscure Fellini movie?

Here's something I watched just because it was short — 43 minutes — and I was clicking idly about in my streaming service — Criterion — which said "Federico Fellini’s loose adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s 'Never Bet the Devil Your Head' stars Terence Stamp as an alcoholic actor who suffers from disturbing visions":

  

I'd never heard of this film or that Poe story. The film is so short because it was part of a set of 3 adaptations of Poe, packaged as "Spirits of the Dead," which Wikipedia says "received a mixed critical reception, with the Fellini segment widely regarded as the best of the three." 

I'm not sure that the film has much to do with Poe's "Never Bet the Devil Your Head," which seems to be all about the problem of taking statements literally. There are some points of connection, but the Poe story does not have a surreal awards ceremony — "The Golden She-Wolves" — or a 1964 Ferrari 330 LMB Fantuzzi. The point of Fellini's story seems to be... well, his is less of a story with a moral... I'll just say it's: Life is hell when you're a hopeless drunk.

"For months, the CDC has married a god-awful communications strategy with a determination to cater to the most irrational whims of the paranoid, triple-masking urban gentry..."

"... the whims of the archetypical Karen, in other words.... Overall, a majority of voters — 55 percent — agree that 'despite good intentions, shutting down businesses and locking down society did more harm than good.'... There is a great deal of pent-up frustration and resentment over the inconvenience, the loss of freedom and the general climate of hectoring that the government’s pandemic response has created. It’s irritating to be lectured by officials who claim to be smarter than you. It’s infuriating to be lectured by government officials who claim to be smarter than you — but clearly aren’t.... Republicans would be foolish not to capitalize on this well-earned distrust of public-health officials, especially among key Democratic constituencies. The Democrats, beholden to the laptop class and to bossy interlopers, are likely to favor extended and intrusive interventions and a long-lasting power-grab by health bureaucrats. Republicans can [use] a simple, consistent message: The pandemic is over. The vaccines have crushed the virus... Say no to masks, to irrational rules, to the ways Karen and her bureaucratic servants would suffocate ordinary people’s lives, especially working-class Americans who can’t work remotely."

Writes Glenn Reynolds in "No, Karen, we’re not masking again: A winning GOP message for 2022 & beyond" (NY Post).

1. Please, I'm begging you, don't use the old "Karen" meme. Either it's pointlessly gendered or you actually mean to stir up antagonism toward women. I know it often seems as though the Democrats are the women and the Republicans are the men, but both parties need men and women and both parties should resist trading in gender stereotypes. 

2. Not only is there a risk of looking — and being! — sexist if they deploy "Karen," Republicans have to be careful not to look like they are rejecting science and reason. I know: Trump wasn't careful, and look how successful he was. Yeah, look how successful he was . So successful, he himself told us we'd get tired of all the winning. We did get tired. You can't operate at that level, mocking everyone, doubting everything. We need to feel secure. We want to be free, but not reckless. 

3. The high ground is open for either party to take. Science should not be political. There are experts, they should advise within the area of their expertise, and we should value what they give us for precisely what it is worth, as input to policy choices, and I want politicians who can sanely and intelligently analyze the policy, not taunt and aggravate.

"In some ways, I believe that these tech giants are more powerful than government officials.... take Donald Trump versus Mark Zuckerberg. Trump could be dis-elected..."

"... he could be sued, he can be impeached. And none of the above is true for Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey, etc, no free speech rights against them, no due process rights against them. And... we've seen more and more of a coalescence between particular political and government leaders, putting increasingly overt pressure on the tech companies to censor speech that these politicians don't like and that they would be completely barred by the First Amendment from directly censoring themselves.... So from from a legal perspective... whether you call it collaboration or pressure, the interrelationship between the two is constitutionally significant, because even private sector actors are directly bound by constitutional norms, including the First Amendment free speech guarantee, if you can show that there is in the legal term to describe this is called entanglement, sufficient entanglement between the government officials and the nominally private sector actors, that if they are essentially conspiring with the government doing the government's bidding, the government can't do an end run around his own constitutional obligations that way.... And I have to say, you know, you talk about certain orthodoxies on the left, I was really shocked at how cavalier and how dismissive the so-called mainstream media was in sneering at Trump's lawsuit, because it really has to be taken seriously.... there is a serious First Amendment challenge here...."

From "Interview with Nadine Strossen on Threat of Big Tech and Big Gov Collusion Against the First Amendment/'Private sector actors are directly bound by constitutional norms, including the First Amendment' if they are being coerced or colluding with the government" (interview with Sam Husseini on Substack).

Nadine Strossen, a law professor, was president of the ACLU from 1991 to 2008.