January 9, 2016

Mark Steyn goes to a Trump rally.

A nice write-up. Funny... so I'll excerpt the part about Trump's comic talent:
He's way funnier than half the stand-up acts I've seen at the Juste pour rires comedy festival a couple of hours north in Montreal. And I can guarantee that he was funnier than any of the guys trying their hand at Trump Improv night at the Vermont Comedy Club a couple of blocks away. He has a natural comic timing.
Steyn compliments Obama for his comic timing, then:

"I Tried Breadfacing — Now I Understand."

I clicked on that because I thought it said "I Tried Breastfeeding — Now I Understand," but, no, it's "I Tried Breadfacing — Now I Understand."
Have you watched the Breadface videos?... I've watched all 23 of her videos and am impressed at how satisfied she looks with this simple pleasure. I wanted to understand the experience behind her look of bliss, and to find out whether, if I tried it, breadfacing would bring me the same bliss.... I pressed my cheeks, my chin, my nose into each individual croissant.... Truthfully, I didn't understand Breadface's love of breadfacing until the Wonder Bread....

"We do know Hillary told her daughter Chelsea, well gosh, I knew it was a terrorist attack, while we were out telling the American people it wasn't."

"You know I'll tell you, in my house, if my daughter Catherine, the five-year-old, says something she knows to be false, she gets a spanking. Well, in America, the voters have a way of administering a spanking."

Said Ted Cruz, dragging his daughter into politics again, plying an icky metaphor, and striving — I suppose — to win the hearts of the corporal punishment crowd.

I wonder, what do Americans think of the corporal punishment of children these days? This was a hot question in September 2014, you may remember, when a significant pro football player, Adrian Peterson, was found to have used a "switch" on his little son and the famous former basketball player Charles Barkley said:
"I'm a black guy ... I'm from the South. Whipping — we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under those circumstances...."
NPR's Gene Demby looked at the numbers and the research:
[A] sizeable majority of people in the United States, regardless of race, look favorably on corporal punishment. Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight looked at some polling data and found that just north of 8 in 10 black people favored corporal punishment. That's higher than white people, but not by a whole lot: 7 in 10 white people favored corporal punishment. (There was a slightly larger gap on this question among people who identified as born-again Christians and those who did not. But again, strong majorities of both groups felt this way — about 80 percent and 65 percent, respectively.)...

"The hysteria is warranted: there were coordinated sexual assaults and rapes on hundreds of women in Cologne, Hamburg and a few other German towns, Salzburg, and towns in Finland."

"The media covered it all up, a shocking dereliction of duty to report the news. Why are we having a discussion about the feelings of the men who committed these crimes and whether they will be offended that we are stating the obvious, that thousands of them across Europe were of the same ethnic group? A war on women was brazenly unleashed that night around Europe. If the perps were local nationals, then throw the book at them and put them away for a long time. If the attackers were refugees and asylum seekers, then they should forfeit the right to live in the West. Those men - local or refugees - knew wrong from right but decided to prey on physically weaker victims. These were crimes of control and delight in the infliction of terror. Subjecting them to culture classes will do no more than lecturing to murderers that taking a life is wrong. It sure would be nice if the politically correct would stop throwing women as a group under the bus in the name of trying to judge these mass atrocities as some kind of balancing test. Punish the offenders and keep anyone with the mindset that women are fair game to be raped out of the West, period."

That's the top-rated comment at the NYT on an op-ed titled "Germany’s Post-Cologne Hysteria," by Anna Sauerbrey, who concluded "We need to regain our sense of balance — or it’s just a question of time until we hit a wall."

Mickey Kaus fears a future in which robots do all the work and we, consequently, have no basis for self-respect.

"Evolutionarily, we are designed for work. We are unhappy when we're not working. We become a sociopathic bachelor herd.... What do we do with all these people who have no productive work?"

ELSEWHERE: "Why Do Americans Work So Much?/The economist John Maynard Keynes predicted a society so prosperous that people would hardly have to work. But that isn’t exactly how things have played out."

"Email has evolved into a weird medium of communication where the best thing you can do is destroy it quickly, as if every email were a rabid bat attacking your face."

"Yet even the tragically email-burdened still have a weird love for this particular rabid, face-attacking bat."

Quoted in "The Triumph of Email/Why does one of the world’s most reviled technologies keep winning?" by Adrienne LaFrance, who says "That love may not be all that weird, though—especially as email’s competitors, with push notifications, become more annoying. Email works. It’s open. It’s lovely on mobile...."

Fred Armisen in his feminist bookstore persona Candace Devereaux reads "Portlandia Travelogue: The Brussels to Antwerp Express."

Downloadable free here.
A literary train journey on the Brussels to Antwerp Express through the erotic world of European train stations and mysterious faces, by Candace Devereaux (Fred Armisen) from Portland's Women and Women First Bookstore.
It's a reminder that "Portlandia" begins a new season soon.

I'd never noticed that the character had the last name Devereaux. That's significant to anyone who's read the great David Rakoff essay "The Satisfying Crunch of Dreams Underfoot" (found in the collection "Half Empty"). He tells about having to judge a best-unpublished-novel contest and plowing through 2,000 manuscripts:
For the most part we ate our sandwiches and worked silently, all the while, of course, vigilantly on Devereaux Watch. For mysterious reasons, possibly having to do with schlock auteur Aaron Spelling, in amateur writing, Devereaux is the default name for either the president, a ne’er-do-well scion of a powerful clan, an iron-willed jewel-encrusted dowager, or the family manse whose stately façade conceals many dark secrets. There was no prize for winning the Devereaux Watch. Coming upon the first—and by no means only—appearance of the name on a given day’s reading was its own reward, and finding it never took longer than seven minutes.
When did Aaron Spelling start this? I assume it was 1984, the "New Lady in Town" episode of "Dynasty":

"But the most incendiary charge against cognitive approaches, from the torchbearers of psychoanalysis, is that they might actually make things worse..."

"... that finding ways to manage your depressed or anxious thoughts, for example, may simply postpone the point at which you’re driven to take the plunge into self-understanding and lasting change. CBT’s implied promise is that there’s a relatively simple, step-by-step way to gain mastery over suffering. But perhaps there’s more to be gained from acknowledging how little control – over our lives, our emotions, and other people’s actions – we really have? The promise of mastery is seductive not just for patients but therapists, too. 'Clients are anxious about being in therapy, and inexperienced therapists are anxious because they don’t have a clue what to do,” writes the US psychologist Louis Cozolino in a new book, Why Therapy Works. 'Therefore, it is comforting for both parties to have a task they can focus on.'"

From "Therapy wars: the revenge of Freud/Cheap and effective, CBT became the dominant form of therapy, consigning Freud to psychology’s dingy basement. But new studies have cast doubt on its supremacy – and shown dramatic results for psychoanalysis. Is it time to get back on the couch?" — in The Guardian, by Oliver Burkeman.

"What’s more wholesome than reading? Yet books wield a dangerous power: the best erode self, infecting readers with ideas."

Here's an essay titled "Dark Books" by Tara Isabella Burton.
Throughout the 19th century, novels were regarded with the same suspicion with which we treat, say, Eli Roth’s ‘torture-porn’ Saw movies today. They were dangerous not simply because of the stories they might contain – the romantic expressions of wish-fulfillment, for example, that led Emma Bovary down the garden path of adultery – but also because reading itself was seen as a kind of possession: an encroachment of the ‘other’ upon the self.

In his condemnatory tract Popular Amusements (1869), the American clergyman Jonathan Townley Crane cautioned his flock against reading novels: ‘novel-readers spend many a precious hour in dreaming out clumsy little romances of their own, in which they themselves are the beautiful ladies and the gallant gentlemen who achieve impossibilities…’ only to find themselves ‘merged in the hero of the story’, losing the sense of who they really are.....

"In the Sinhala language, [trolling] is called ala kireema (අල කිරීම), which means 'Turning it into Potatoes (Sabotage).'"

"Sometimes it is used as ala vagaa kireema (අල වගා කිරීම)—'Planting Potatoes.' People/Profiles who [do] trolling often are called 'Potato Planters'—ala vagaakaruvan (අල වගාකරුවන්). This seems to be originated from university slang ala væda (අල වැඩ) which means 'Potato business' is used for breaking the laws/codes of the university."

From the Wikipedia article "Internet troll."

January 8, 2016

So there's a man in Australia who — for his signature — draws a little penis.

"Suspecting that no one at the Australian Electoral Commission would scrutinise the application to change his address, [Jared Hyams] scribbled a caricature of a penis in the box that asked for a signature. 'I thought it would be a laugh; they would approve it and next year I would sign something different,' the 33-year-old said. 'But when I did this signature all of a sudden the shit hit the fan. I was receiving letters and phone calls telling me I couldn't have it. I thought, that's interesting, why not?' And so began a five year battle with state and federal government agencies over the question of what constitutes a legitimate signature...."

"'What a signature is comes down to the function, not the actual form. Generally, it's a person putting a mark on a piece of paper by their own hand. As soon as you start defining what a signature is you run into problems - if it's meant to be someone's name how do we define that because most signatures are just illegible scribble.'"

The death of "Poor Joshua!"

Commemorated by Linda Greenhouse. 
A series of savage beatings by his father, who had obtained custody after a divorce and whose history of abuse had been reported to the local child welfare authorities to no avail, left Joshua comatose and permanently brain damaged at the age of 4.... His biological mother, acting on his behalf, sued the Winnebago County, Wis., Department of Social Services for depriving Joshua of the “liberty” protected by the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court’s rejection of that claim, in a 1989 opinion written by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, provoked Justice Harry A. Blackmun to exclaim in dissent: “Poor Joshua!”...

For readers who don’t know the case, I’ll describe it here both because it continues to define an important part of our constitutional landscape and because, as the seasonal remembrances wind down, Joshua DeShaney Braam’s unsought role in a Supreme Court decision that limited government’s obligation to its citizens shouldn’t go unmarked.....

“That the state once took temporary custody of Joshua does not alter the analysis,” Chief Justice Rehnquist wrote, “for when it returned him to his father’s custody, it placed him in no worse position than that in which he would have been had it not acted at all; the state does not become the permanent guarantor of an individual’s safety by having once offered him shelter.”
I had not noticed that Joshua DeShaney (later Joshua Braam) had died last November, here in Wisconsin. A very sad story. The Supreme Court was put in the position of having to decide when we can properly say that the government has deprived a person of liberty without due process. The terrible harm came from his father, and while we can all look back and wish that social services had stepped in sooner, the Court wouldn't see a rights violation in the failure to intervene. Poor Joshua lived to be 36.

Justice Blackmun's 2-word outcry "Poor Joshua!" is a famous peak in judicial empathy.

"Actually, it’s society that’s getting a free ride on women’s unrewarded contributions to the perpetuation of the human race."

"As Marx might have said had he deemed women’s work worth including in his labor theory of value (he didn’t), 'reproductive labor' (as feminists call the creation and upkeep of families and homes) is the basis of the accumulation of human capital. I say it’s time for something like reparations."

Writes Judith Shulevitz in the NYT. The "something like reparations" is the Universal Basic Income ("UBI"), which goes to every person in the country — not just women, not just caregivers, not just to non-wage-earners. She's guessing it could be something like "$12,000 a year per citizen over 18, and $4,000 per child." She imagines the costs being paid by cutting back the military and taxing the rich (and also by saving on various anti-poverty programs that might become unnecessary).

Do you like UBI? Do you like it more with this "something like reparations" feminist argument or would some other argument work better?

"Transfer of emotion" — the "practiced salesman’s term for the magical moment when a consumer becomes one with a garment he has just met."

Experienced by Guy Trebay in "One Man, Five Designers/Theory meets practice as our men’s wear critic tries out the clothes that he has only viewed from the front row."
It would understate things to say that an emotional transfer kicked in when I put on the sleek two-button suit, whose details — pick-stitched lapels; deep double vents; waist adjusters (to eliminate a belt’s bisecting ugliness); a superfluous yet appealingly anachronistic ticket pocket — contributed to the spell.... Seldom have I felt more like money than I did while riding the R train to work on the morning I took the suit for its test ride, or when sluicing through the Times Square mobs and Elmos wearing Mr. Lauren’s $5,995 suit....
A very interesting experiment, well described. And I really loved this quote from Oscar Wilde: "Fashion is a form of ugliness so absolutely unbearable that we have to alter it every six months!"

That had me searching my Kindle version of "Complete Works of Oscar Wilde" for the word "ugliness." I happened upon this interchange in "The Picture of Dorian Gray":
“How can you say that? I admit that I think that it is better to be beautiful than to be good. But on the other hand no one is more ready than I am to acknowledge that it is better to be good than to be ugly.”
“Ugliness is one of the seven deadly sins, then?” cried the Duchess....

“Ugliness is one of the seven deadly virtues, Gladys....” 

"Bernie is my No. 1 choice, and Trump is No. 2. They’re not that different.”

Said Daniel Nadeau, 22, of St. Albans, Vt., quoted "Overflow Crowd for Donald Trump in Bernie Sanders’s Backyard," the NYT report on Trump's rally in Burlington, Vermont. There's also:
“I’m a Trump guy, but I do like Bernie,” said Peter Vincenzo, 59, who works installing hardwood floors and traveled from Ohio for the rally. “There are a lot of parallels between these two guys. There’s a populist appeal that comes with both of them.”
Are Trump and Bernie tapping the same energy?

"This article originally misidentified the bloggers Tracy of fanserviced-b and Cat Cactus of Snow White and the Asian Pear as 'self-identified feminist academics and scholars.'"

"Neither blogger self-identifies as a feminist, and Cat Cactus is not an academic. The piece also stated that Tracy and Cat Cactus are among women who 'view the elaborate [K-beauty] routine not as vanity but rather as an act of radical feminist self-care.' Both bloggers disavow this view, and neither of them were contacted for the piece."

That's one hell of a correction on a Slate article that was already whacked out on its own terms — "Radical Self-Care/Meet the feminist academics who love K-beauty," by Rebecca Schuman. I was all you've got to be kidding me long before I got to the correction. Just to give you a taste of what Schuman was dishing up raving about some 10-step Korean beauty products:
... K-beauty is... popular with self-identified feminist academics and scholars... Indeed, Stockton University English and digital humanities professor and Web designer Adeline Koh published an entire blog post on the subject.... "I’ve started to view beauty as a form of self-care, instead of a patriarchal trap. One of my deepest inspirations, the writer and activist Audre Lorde, famously declared that “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.'"
Just the phrase "an entire blog post" made me laugh. 
“Self-care, especially for a woman of color, is radical,” [my colleague Dorothy Kim, a professor of medieval literature at Vassar College]  tells me. Korean beauty “is a little breath of relaxing joy and feminist community.”...

Part of why K-beauty in particular seems to have trended in academia is that... [it] can be blended fairly seamlessly with a solitary, writing-intensive profession. More than one scholar I interviewed reported dividing writing or grading goals into mask units. Several plan to incorporate group masking into informal meetings at this weekend’s Modern Languages Association conference (which makes the whole experience sound a tad less odious).

It even intersects with some scholarship—for example, Koh’s current book project, which is “a comparative study of representations of whiteness in different parts of the world.”... For example, “Korean beauty products often sell themselves as ‘whitening,’ which makes people in the U.S. think that they are bleaching their skin....  This makes for some awkward translations, though—such as the Korean brand with a product called White Power Essence....
Boldface mine. Laughter mine.

A Slate writer proclaims Trump's aspersions on Cruz's natural-born citizenship "sort of brilliant."

Cruz, born in Canada, was a citizen at birth because his mother was an American citizen, and there isn't going be to a court case interpreting the "natural born citizen" clause of the Constitution to require anything more than that. If Cruz is a good-enough natural-born citizen, the question whether Obama was born in Kenya should never even have come up, because Obama's mother was an American citizen. Who cares where she was? Should pregnant women refrain from international travel lest they disqualify their offspring from the presidency?

But voters can take whatever they like into account. Maybe a candidate doesn't seem American enough to be trusted with the presidency. That would have been the better argument with Obama, who had a foreign father and step-father and spent much of his early years in Indonesia. And — think about it — Hawaii is awfully disconnected from the great bulk of America. And then he staged a big rally in Berlin. One might say that the "natural born citizen" clause — whatever it means technically — embodies a principle that the President needs to be very fundamentally American, utterly disconnected from any foreign power. Use that principle to leverage political arguments. If you can.

That's what I think. Now, here's the Slate article, by Jim Newell, "Does Ted Cruz Have a 'Birther' Problem?/Why Donald Trump’s new attack on the Texas senator is pitch perfect."
[Trump] is not running around saying There’s no way that Cruz is eligible!, which is usually how he rolls. He is saying that Cruz has a responsibility to the party to clear himself through the courts in the event he wins the nomination. “How do you run against the Democrat, whoever it may be,” Trump said on CNN Wednesday, “and you have this hanging over your head if they bring a lawsuit?”...

Many Republican primary voters, in large part because of Cruz and Trump’s rhetoric this campaign, are inclined to pick up on and feel unnerved by even the smallest whiffs of foreignness.... The fear of something, however improbable, happening to the Republican nominee ahead of the general election and “handing” the race to Clinton is a nagging one....

When Trump started talking about Cruz’s birth this week, he was not universally condemned, as he usually is when he says something strange. There’s been a surprisingly broad range of actors fanning Trump’s statement. Sen. Rand Paul.... Sen. John “Panama” McCain, who hates every atom in Cruz’s body... Ann Coulter.... And don’t expect Democrats to get in the way of Republican “birthers” devouring themselves, either.....

A poor rural province in China spent $465,000 erecting a 120-foot golden statue of Mao, but when the internet saw the photographs and made fun of it...

... a demolition team came and demolished the whole thing in one day.
A person answering the telephone at the Tongxu County government offices said he did not know anything about the demolition. He referred a caller to the county propaganda department, where the telephone went unanswered. Another person answering the telephone at the local Sunying township also said he had not heard of the demolition.

According to villagers and reports on online chat sites, the statue was the idea of a local businessman, Sun Qingxin, the head of Lixing Group, a conglomerate that owns food-processing facilities, hospitals and schools, as well as makes machinery. Mr. Sun paid for it, they said...

“He is crazy about Mao,” said a villager who identified himself as Mr. Wang, a potato farmer. “His factory is full of Maos.”...

[A] woman named Ms. Yang, 75, said several villagers cried when it was knocked down. “Mao was our leader and ate bitterness for us,” she said.
ADDED: Perhaps the idea was to have one of these very large roadside attractions that bring visitors to various out-of-the-way places. Me, I'm pretty averse to traveling and am not easily suckered into going a long distance to see some big damned thing you're supposed to feel you ought to see, but I could spend years doing day trips in Wisconsin to all the places listed as "Wisconsin Attractions and Oddities."

One of them is the recently removed Ozzy the Octopus that was a few blocks from our house. Ozzy killed no one, ate bitterness for no one, but he did preside over a car wash.

But if you're more of a bucket-list-y world traveler, here are some colossi you could feel you need to visit, such as the "Statue of Unity," honoring India’s first deputy prime minister, which will be somewhere you probably wouldn't even have considered going. It will be 597 feet tall, out-talling the Spring Temple Buddha, heretofore the tallest statue in the world, which gets a good lot of people to go to Zhaocun township, which is somewhere in China. Also at that last link is the Peter the Great Statue at the confluence of the Moskva River and the Vodootvodny Canal in Moscow. I recognize it only because I recently flipped through a slideshow of the ugliest statues in the world.

"Sorcery is considered such a grave concern..."

"... that, in 2009, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice created a specially trained unit to conduct witchcraft investigations. Saudi citizens are encouraged to report suspected witches and sorcerers anonymously, to a hotline. (A writer for the Saudi Gazette, an English-language newspaper, lauded the squad’s ability to eliminate 'magic the same way the security forces would defuse explosives.') Last spring, in Riyadh, ten government agencies took part in a state-sponsored sorcery-awareness workshop."

From "Sisters in Law/Saudi women are beginning to know their rights," by Katherine Zoepf in The New Yorker.

The Saudi Gazette no longer displays the quoted article, and I couldn't find it through the Wayback Machine or Google Cache. This might be the relevant text, at Crossroads Arabia. It contains the quoted text — which I've boldfaced — and purports to be "a good piece in the Arabic daily Alsharq from the Eastern Province (here translated by Saudi Gazette)":

January 7, 2016

"The Bill Clinton scandal machine revs back up and takes aim at his wife."

Says the front-page Washington Post teaser:

I'm struck by: 1. Calling Hillary Clinton, the dominating presidential candidate, "his wife." 2. Using a gun violence metaphor — "takes aim" — about an American presidential candidate. (Never do this, whatever your politics. It's never needed. And there are weak people with impressionable minds.) 3. Dehumanizing Hillary's opponents as a "machine." 4. The idea that problems relating to Bill Clinton's interactions are manufactured — machine-made — and don't come from real people who think there really was something wrong. (I have always had a problem with the sexual harassment aspects of Bill's misdoings, though I was never a Republican, and I voted for him twice.) 5. A supposedly serious newspaper straining so obviously to carry the Clintons' message: It's old, it's manufactured, it's unfair, it's (metaphorical) violence against women. 6. The mixed metaphor: a manufacturing device, a gun, and — "gain new traction" — a vehicle.

So I clicked. At the article, the headline is different, and much more appropriately journalistic: "For Hillary Clinton, old news or new troubles?" It's so different that I didn't think I'd arrived at the article I'd clicked on. But the byline is the same — Karen Tumulty and Frances Stead Sellers — and I double checked.

Tumulty and Sellers observe that the sexual troubles are old but there's a "fresher case being made" that Hillary has been "hypocritical"...
In November, Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Every survivor of sexual assault deserves to be heard, believed, and supported.” She has made women’s issues a central focus of her campaign and is counting on a swell of support for the historic prospect of the first female president.
... or, worse, "complicit."
[Juanita] Broaddrick, now a Trump supporter, tweeted Wednesday: “I was 35 years old when Bill Clinton, Ark. Attorney General raped me and Hillary tried to silence me. I am now 73. . . .it never goes away.”
And times have changed. We have "a new sensitivity toward victims of unwanted sexual contact." Interesting. I remember when we had "a new sensitivity" in the early 1990s, when male Senators, chided with "You just don't get it," stepped up and took it very seriously. That new sensitivity got lost to a politically opportune insensitivity when Democrats decided it was more important to protect their President. They subordinated feminism to Democratic Party power, and it required a long struggle to get back to a second new sensitivity. And so, once again, the question is whether sensitivity or insensitivity better serves the interests of the Democratic Party.

If you don't remember "You just don't get it," here's a Washington Post column from May 5, 1994, by Richard Cohen: "Bill Clinton's Anita Hill":
Conservatives (and others) have wondered out loud the last several weeks why The Post, which reported [Anita] Hill's allegations [against Clarence Thomas], was so silent about a similar accusation lodged against Bill Clinton....
As few conservatives failed to note, the Jones story and the Hill story have much in common.... The fact remains that both women have made unsubstantiated accusations of a grievously wounding nature. They both amount to bulletless assassinations...
Ugh! Another cheap gun violence metaphor.
... of character and possibly of career. It's hard, moreover, to gauge their relevance -- although if Jones is on the level, then Clinton has truly given womanizing a bad name. Her story is revolting, and the purported use of state troopers as procurers is deeply disturbing. But liberals had this coming...

The mere invocation of the phrase "You just don't get it" during the Thomas hearings seemed to banish common sense, not to mention decency. In Thomas's case, so much -- feminism, the abortion movement, civil rights -- was invoked to justify the public trashing of a man who, whatever his politics, was hardly evil. It's hard to see him now and not wonder what all the fuss was about. Hill was just the means to try to bring about Thomas's end.... Paula Jones is to Bill Clinton what Anita Hill was to Clarence Thomas. It's that simple -- and that regrettable as well.
And thus the new sensitivity became the new insensitivity until a new sensitivity seemed like a good idea again and now — once again for the Clintons — it seems to be time once again for a new insensitivity. As if feminism is nothing but what the Democratic Party needs it to be and believing women depends on whether we like what they are saying.

I get it.

BUMPED: Originally published at 6:53 AM, but it got buried. 

"I don't quite get the sense of outrage here," says a commenter on an article about fantasy sports gambling.

"You're gambling in a giant pool against thousands of other people with millions of dollars at stake and you're upset that some of your opponents are experts against whom you have no chance of winning? It's GAMBLING. You're going to lose money. If you want to make a decent return put your money in an index fund. If you want to have a laugh with your friends, use a private league like the one described in the last paragraph. But the argument that these sites should be blocking the best players because, well, they're just too good strikes me as a little disingenuous. It's like asking the SEC to ban hedge funds from investing in the stock market because it's too hard for an average joe to make money betting against them. Of course it is! Why should a casual sports fan and gambler be entitled to a game where he competes only against people no better than himself?"

The article, in the NYT, is "How the Daily Fantasy Sports Industry Turns Fans Into Suckers."

Ramadi, retaken... in ruins.

"The retaking of Ramadi by Iraqi security forces last week has been hailed as a major blow to the Islamic State and as a vindication of the Obama administration’s strategy to fight the group by backing local ground forces with intensive airstrikes. But the widespread destruction of Ramadi bears testament to the tremendous costs of dislodging a group that stitches itself into the urban fabric of communities it seizes by occupying homes, digging tunnels and laying extensive explosives...."

"Suspects in Cologne sex attacks 'claimed to be Syrian refugees.'"

"Leaked police report claims senior police officers feared fatalities and that one of those involved in attacks told officers: 'I am Syrian. You have to treat me kindly. Mrs Merkel invited me.'..."
Another tore up his residence permit before the eyes of police, and told them: “You can’t do anything to me, I can get a new one tomorrow.”

A local newspaper reported that fifteen asylum-seekers from Syria and Afghanistan were briefly held by police on New Year's Eve in connection with the sex attacks but were released.

The Express newspaper quoted an unnamed police officer who said his squad had detained several people who had "only been in Germany for a few weeks. Of these people, 14 were from Syria and one was from Afghanistan. That's the truth. Although it hurts," he said.

"Even though we have sung China’s praises on this blog and social media, and saw some of the most incredible landscapes imaginable, the truth is we struggled there."

"China turned us into bad people. The pushing, the shoving, the pollution, the spitting, the lack of respect toward the environment and their fellow human beings, the oily food, the wasteful attitude that is now ingrained in their psyche, we could go on. This is not to say we didn’t have great experiences and meet wonderful people, because we definitely did. But those moments were far less common for us. We hate being negative, and it may sound arrogant or pathetic, but that is the truth.... We would snap at each other over small things, and these minor arguments would turn into all-day affairs. Alesha would get angry at me over trivial matters, and I would retaliate. In the end I stopped being the caring partner that I should be. I neglected Alesha’s feelings and she would attack me for neglecting her. I continued to neglect her because I couldn’t stand being attacked. It was a vicious cycle. Alesha started to resent travel, and I grew numb to it. Nothing excited us anymore. Just like you can lose your passion for a hobby when it becomes a job, we’re starting to become jaded with travel...."

From "This Couple Traveled The World Together And Admits It Strained Their Relationship/Social media makes traveling as a couple look like a honeymoon every day. One couple admits that that’s not always the case."

So part of this was that they made travel their job, but at least they were making money, not hemorrhaging money.

"Chris Christie, caught today in New Hampshire wearing mismatching socks, models shoes that are more typically seen on the campaign trail."

Caption to a photo in a Daily Mail article about Marco Rubio's big-heeled boots.

New York men who want to get married.

The NYT discovers a trend!
“When you’re 27, there’s no tomorrow,” Mr. Choffel said. “At 42, today’s tomorrow. Going home to kids and a family, you’re creating something. You’re building something.”

He is not alone in his increasing distaste for a life that many married men would say they envy. With the freedom has come certain costs: isolation, regret and the feeling that, although you may still feel 25 in your heart, your knees are starting to ache and the years are slipping by fast....

"Would you really be willing to gut (a deer) and … drag it out of the woods just because you can wear pink?"

Said Shotgun Sarah, arguing against a bill in the Wisconsin legislature that would allow hunters to wear fluorescent pink (in addition to what is currently the only color that meets the requirement: blaze orange). The bill was originally proposed as a way to get more women into hunting. But now some of the support is based on the superior visibility of fluorescent pink:
University of Wisconsin-Madison textile expert Majid Sarmadi, who studied fluorescent pink's visibility for the bill's authors, backed up that assertion. He told the committee pink stands out more than orange in a fall landscape. "If pink is more visible, shouldn't it be a good choice? Shouldn't it be allowed to save lives?" Sarmadi said.

"President Obama is again disregarding the constitutional principles of separation of powers and exceeding his authority as chief executive."

"The Obama administration issued guidance creating uncertainty and fear of prosecution for law-abiding citizens who wish to exercise their right to sell firearms lawfully. Forthcoming federal rules could also deprive millions of Americans of their Second Amendment rights without any indication of imminent danger... I have asked the attorney general to review this proposed rule language as soon as it is made available and, if issued as reported, to take any and all legal measures available to challenge this illegal act."

Said Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

"Republicans finally pass an Obamacare repeal. Do GOP voters care?"

"Republicans have never passed an Obamacare repeal through both houses of Congress, forcing Obama to veto. That changed Wednesday."
... Americans already know where the president stands on these issues. Observers say the real point is to remind voters what could happen if a Republican is sitting in the Oval Office and the GOP keeps control of Congress....
How did the bill get through the Senate? They used “budget reconciliation.”
The process allows a bill to avoid a Senate filibuster and pass by simple majority. It’s this procedure that Democrats used to pass the health care law in the first place – and it’s this route that Republicans, after gaining control of the Senate last year, used to finally get this bill to the president’s desk.

"I learned that cow dung cakes can now be ordered on the Indian Amazon website."

"Out of curiosity, I ordered 6 pieces. It cost me 236 rupees, about $4."
I called the local office of Amazon and spoke to Jaideep, who was very courteous and happy to answer my questions. He said, "Sir, this is a new product that Amazon is selling and they are getting a lot of orders from folks in urban areas where it is not so easy to find cow dung cakes." When I asked him what people wanted it for, he said, "They use it for religious purposes only."
Dried cow dung is used as a cooking fuel in rural areas, but it's not what people in urban areas want for cooking. They have some purification of a house and house-warming rituals — "Since cows are considered to be holy by Hindus, their dung is also sacred."

"The teenage years are often the worst and my teens were an uphill struggle against bad skin, frizzy hair and body woes...."

"So here I was again with a face and body that I was deeply unhappy with.... I felt broken and pathetic. It was as if the old, independent, free-spirited Tammy had died and in her place was this person I hardly recognised. I didn't like what I saw and not just because of my appearance..... That's why I applied to be on Channel 4's The Undateables - a dating programme for people with challenging conditions. I'd cheated death for goodness sake so I was pretty sure there was nothing I couldn't do...."

The selfie monkey cannot own the copyright to the photo he took.

The Copyright Act doesn't extend its protection to nonhuman animals, says U.S. District Judge William Orrick. 

Of course, a monkey wouldn't know he had legal rights even if he did. Some human beings would need to purport to represent the monkey, and that's what was going on here. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sought to capture the income stream from Naruto the monkey's beloved photography and offered to spend the money for the benefit of him and the various other crested macaques on the island of Sulawesi.

Here's the beloved and apparently uncopyrightable monkey selfie:

Naruto is delighted with the public domain.

ADDED: Here's an earlier post about why the copyright isn't seen as belonging to the man who set up the camera, setting up the conditions and predicting the last step, a monkey's pushing the button.

January 6, 2016

At the Sunset Café...


... you can talk about whatever you want.


"Is The GOP Establishment Blowing Its Anti-Trump Campaign?"

A FiveThirtyEight chat. Excerpt.
clare.malone: I feel like there is soooo much stuff to make a good negative ad on Trump, though: Allegations of spousal abuse, bankruptcies, etc. Television is a powerful medium — sure it could backfire, I guess, but the fact that no one has spun all those things together, just to try it out, remains surprising.

natesilver: But Trump is such a target-rich environment that it’s a bit like an airplane spewing out chaff. Becomes hard to know what you’re really aiming for.

micah: The paradox of choice....

natesilver: ... [Y]ou could certainly hit Trump on the fact that he’s not a very reliable conservative. Run a campaign around how he’s an opportunist and “just another politician” who will say anything to get elected. How he’s not a true conservative — in fact, not any kind of conservative at all.

harry: What is ideology? We often talk about it on a left to right spectrum, but it’s often just as much about insider vs. outsider. No one cares about Trump’s conservative record or lack thereof. What you want to hit him on is being politics as usual, if you want to defeat him. His support right now is actually weakest among the most conservative voters....

"Penguins vs. The Rope."

So perfectly metaphorical...

Via reddit, where the top comment is "This guy doesn't even make it across."

The City of Madison puts out a call to citizens to clear snow from storm sewer inlets in advance of the coming rain.

"City crews will begin working on clearing inlets. However, there are so many storm sewer inlets in the city staff will not be able to get them all before the expected rainfall. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated."

So get your shovel and get out there like a good citizen.

"The strong appeal of purity to committed conservatives helps explain why Trump’s supporters are not put off by his compulsive focus on disgust."

That's most densely packed sentence in this NYT column by Thomas B. Edsall: "Purity, Disgust and Donald Trump."

People keep asking me why I don't blog about "Making A Murderer."

1. I don't have Netflix. I don't want to fill out any forms and fool around with it. I know there's a free trial period, but I just don't want to fuss with it. I suppose at some point something would overcome my resistance, but this isn't that. Not yet anyway.

2. I feel bad about the poor woman who was murdered, and I'm not interested in consuming what seems to be primarily the defense point of view that goes on for 10 hours. I have read about the case. I've read about the documentary, and seeing the documentary is not an efficient way to gather information. It's a manufactured emotional experience, and I choose not to submit to this one.

3. I really do care about documentary films. I watch few movies these days, but in the last 20 years, documentaries have been my favorite films. They are told from a point of view, and I understand that. I realize that "Making A Murderer" may be a great documentary, and I'm missing something that my interest in documentaries suggests I should want to have seen, but when I look at the Sight & Sound "50 Greatest Documentaries of All Time," I can see that I haven't watched 6 of the top 10. I've never seen "Man with a Movie Camera," "Shoah," "Sans soleil," "Night and Fog," "Chronicle of a Summer," or "The Gleaners and I." If it's my duty to see the greatest documentaries, I've fallen far short.

I'm trying to understand what Bill Clinton meant when he said — on Monday in Nashua — that immigration is our "meal ticket."

Yesterday, I was puzzling over the low press coverage of Bill Clinton's speech in Nashua. I couldn't find a transcript or even any very substantial quotes. I was reading the NYT piece about it, and I found a stray 2-word quote:
Describing the ideas and work ethic of immigrants as potential “meal tickets” for the American economy, Mr. Clinton told some wandering anecdotes about Muslims and others who had stood up for Christians and defended their families....
I said:
"Meal tickets"?  Wouldn't that mean immigrants should work so we natives can get free food? I want to see the text.  
Apparently the only way to get the text is to transcribe it myself from the video. This is about 4 minutes in:

"Leave my daughter alone," said 2003 Jeb. But 2016 Jeb is not leaving her alone.

"As a father, I have felt the heartbreak of drug abuse. I never expected to see my precious daughter in jail," said Jeb Bush. "It wasn’t easy, and it became very public when I was governor of Florida, making things even more difficult for Noelle. She went through hell, so did her mom, and so did I."

She went through hell, but why not use her as a means to the end of getting votes in a state (New Hampshire) ravaged by drug abuse? I'm questioning Jeb's judgment. He raised a daughter who, for whatever reason, fell into this problem/chose this course. But she's "in recovery" and she seems to have kept out of the news for quite a while. Shouldn't she be left alone? Back when she was arrested, there were articles like “Noelle Bush: A victim or princess?” and “Royal rehab: Nonviolent drug offenders should get the Bush treatment.” And Jeb complained:
In 2003, Mr. Bush grew frustrated with a Miami Herald reporter, according to emails obtained by The New York Times through a public records request. “The only reason you wrote the piece or were told to write the piece is that my struggling daughter is the child of the governor,” Mr. Bush chided the reporter. “It won’t matter in the whole scheme of things, but I wish the media would leave my daughter alone. It would make it a whole lot easy for her to recover and live a life full of hope and promise.”
"Leave my daughter alone," said 2003 Jeb. But 2016 Jeb is not leaving her alone.

The German news in German: "Kölns OB Reker erntet Shitstorm wegen 'Armlänge'-Tipp."

I'm trying to read about the sexual assaults that took place in Cologne and what the Mayor Henriette Reker has said about them. Yesterday's post on the subject took off on her saying that the attackers might suffer from "confusion about what constitutes celebratory behavior in Cologne, which has nothing to do with a sexual frankness." Today, I'd like to talk about what's getting reported as her advice to German women that they follow a "code of conduct" to avoid attacks. But this is all translation into English. I don't know whether the German sounded the way "sexual frankness" and "code of conduct" come across in English.

Unfortunately, I don't read German. But that headline! "Kölns OB Reker erntet Shitstorm wegen 'Armlänge'-Tipp." One word jumps out. And it kind of proves my point in reverse. I know how "Shitstorm" sounds to me, but I've got to doubt that German readers are feeling it the same way. A search at the same news site shows that Germans seem to have accepted the English migrant "Shitstorm" without any serious scrutiny:

(Click to enlarge.)

"Shitstorm" is in the OED, defined as "a frenetic or disastrous event; a commotion, a tumult," with the oldest usage going back to 1948, Norman Mailer's book about WWII "The Naked and the Dead": "The hell with Brown... He's been missing all the shit storms. It's his turn." It's also in Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1962): "They finally got to arguing with each other and created such a shitstorm...." A good substitute for "shitstorm" is: "clusterfuck." "Clusterfuck" is also in the OED. It's first in-print sighting was in a 1969 Vietnam account: "These are the screwups that the American public rarely hears about. They happen often enough over here that we have a term for them—‘cluster-fuck’!"

Now, back to what I was looking for, the news about Henriette Reker's advice to women. In English. The Guardian has "Cologne attacks: mayor lambasted for telling women to keep men at arm's length":
Asked by a journalist how women could protect themselves, Henriette Reker said: “There’s always the possibility of keeping a certain distance of more than an arm’s length – that is to say to make sure yourself you don’t look to be too close to people who are not known to you, and to whom you don’t have a trusting relationship.”... Reker also advised women to “stick together in groups, don’t get split up, even if you’re in a party mood.”
We're told Reker seemed caught off guard and groped for an answer. There's perhaps unintended revelation in unprepared blurtings, but something this unplanned isn't really a "code of conduct." The shitstorm in social media has the hashtag #einarmlaenge (which means "an arm’s length"). Example:
Christopher Lauer, a politician, tweeted: “Man: 'I had intended to mug this woman and molest her, but shit! She’s an arm’s length away from me!'”

IN THE COMMENTS: Discussion of the shitstorm/clusterfuck distinction.

North Korea has had a "complete success" setting of a hydrogen bomb.

Or so it says.
The North’s announcement came about an hour after detection devices around the world had picked up a 5.1 seismic event along the country’s northeast coast.... The tremors occurred at or near the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, where three previous tests have been conducted over the past nine years....

The North Korean announcement said... that for the North to give up its nuclear weapons while Washington’s “hostile policy” continued would be “as foolish as for a hunter to lay down his rifle while a ferocious wolf is charging at him.”

January 5, 2016

Prairie sunset.


Just now.

"German authorities said on Tuesday that coordinated attacks in which young women were sexually harassed and robbed by hundreds of young men..."

"... on New Year’s Eve in the western city of Cologne were unprecedented in scale and nature," the NYT reports.
The assault, which went largely unreported for days, set off a national outcry after the Cologne police described the attackers as young men “who appeared to have a North African or Arabic” background, based on testimony from victims and witnesses.... Germany took in more than one million migrants last year.... Heiko Maas, Germany’s justice minister, warned on Tuesday against linking the assaults to the influx of refugees, saying that the ethnicity of the perpetrators was irrelevant.

"This crowd shot from Donald Trump’s Massachusetts rally is absolutely mind-boggling."

Headline for a Chris Cillizza piece in WaPo. Here's the photo:

Cillizza writes:
The building... holds 8,000 people, and local officials were estimating that it was filled to capacity or beyond. That is a MASSIVE amount of people — especially considering that the high temperature in Lowell yesterday was 29 degrees and Trump's rally didn't start until the evening....

[T]he willingness of so many people to wait so long in such cold temperatures simply for the chance to see Trump speak would suggest that the idea that his supporters won't be the sort of people to sit through the long caucus process of Iowa or turn out to vote in the frigid cold of New Hampshire might be misguided.
Meanwhile, how many people showed up for Bill Clinton's first outing yesterday in Nashua? 720.

Robin Givhan analyzes the "studiously unattractive sweater" Bill Cosby wore to his arraignment.

"With its sober color and vaguely lopsided fit, it had the look of a sick-bed sweater. You could practically smell the Bengay...."
[H]is salt-and-pepper hooded sweater with the sort of toggle closures that might be found on a child’s coat... managed to telegraph the dual message of grandfatherly trust and warmth, as well as impish innocence. What the sweater most vehemently did not imply was money and power, which Cosby has in abundance....

The Cosby promenade delivered a... pungent and cynical statement. It suggested that Cosby — a man who last year completed a rigorous national comedy tour in the face of mounting scandal — is doddering and fragile and incapable of moving through the world unassisted.
Givhan's critique is justified, and yet, Cosby's dressing to maximize his advantage is also entirely justified. The question is whether that sweater was his best choice. If it's obvious he's trying to seem like a pathetic old man when, in fact, he is not, then the sweater undercuts his credibility. Maybe he should have dialed his I'm-a-pathetic-old-man look back a notch. But he is 78, and the old-man routine seems pretty plausible.  He is old, even as the charge against him is old.

Givhan's column is titled "Did Bill Cosby’s grandpa sweater make you feel bad for him? Why this con didn’t work." But I don't understand why it didn't work, or even why it shouldn't work. Or why it's a "con." Givhan lists some actors who are in their 70s — Harrison Ford, Al Pacino, etc. — and implies that they dress spiffily. She says that Cosby could have worn "a shirt and tie or a business suit." But look at the pictures of Cosby from that "rigorous national comedy tour" last year. He was wearing a big, baggy gray sweatsuit. The "studiously unattractive sweater" was a significant step up in nattiness from his concert outfit. So I think it's less of a con than the suit and tie that unfamous criminal defendants wear to their arraignments all the time.

The big dog that didn't bark.

Very little coverage of that Bill Clinton rally yesterday. What's up? What does the press silence mean?

I wrote about it yesterday, here, thinking I'd have a transcript to work from later, but I can barely find anything.

The NYT has 2 write-ups by Patrick Healy (one a "first draft" and the other more fleshed out): "Bill Clinton, in Restrained Mode, Returns to Campaign Trail in New Hampshire." and "Bill Clinton, the Subdued Spouse, Makes His Campaign Debut." From the first link:
Bill Clinton, the famous Big Dog of American politics, seemed to be on a tight leash on Monday as he delivered a low-key and, at times, disjointed speech at a rally for Hillary Clinton during his first solo swing in New Hampshire. Mr. Clinton, who was criticized for overshadowing Mrs. Clinton in 2008....

If Mr. Clinton had a theme, it was portraying Mrs. Clinton (and himself) as high-minded advocates of “inclusive” policies — an adjective that he repeated several times — rather than exclusionary proposals like Mr. Trump’s call for temporarily banning Muslims for entering the United States....

Describing the ideas and work ethic of immigrants as potential “meal tickets” for the American economy, Mr. Clinton told some wandering anecdotes about Muslims and others who had stood up for Christians and defended their families....
"Meal tickets"?  Wouldn't that mean immigrants should work so we natives can get free food? I want to see the text.
Several voters said after the speech that they were struck by Mr. Clinton’s relatively muted style... “He was low-key in a down-to-earth way, which I think is the right thing to do, because the limelight should be on Hillary,” said Gail DuFresne, 59, a nurse from Rindge, N.H.
From the second link:
Mr. Clinton appeared a little rusty, rambling at times during his first campaign rally at Nashua Community College.... He talked about his own presidency and the work of his foundation, which he mentioned a few times, and about Mrs. Clinton’s ideas and the need to elect a president to fit the times. (His discursive reflection on the personal problems of President Franklin Pierce, a New Hampshire native, was largely met with silence from the Nashua audience.)...
Ah, the Franklin Pierce business (that I wrote about in my earlier post) was New Hampshire related. That makes it less bizarre.
Advisers to Mr. Clinton said he was focused on making the best case possible for why Mrs. Clinton should be president, rather than delivering stemwinders or playing attack dog. Political allies of Mr. Clinton added that he did not feel the need to attack, in part because he did not see Mrs. Clinton’s opponents as serious threats to her at this point.
So he did what he was supposed to do... or the NYT understands what the campaign intends for him to have done — which is to be out there but inconspicuous — and affirms that's what he did.

I never found a transcript, but here's full-length video:

The Daily Mail made a photo-filled story about the people who stood behind Bill Clinton for the whole speech:
A half-dozen females hand-picked to stand behind the former president grimaces, scowled and fought off yawns as he spoke in New Hampshire.
I feel sorry for these ladies! Who knows how to stand and look on camera for 28 minutes? What would you do with your face if you were under that kind of high-def continual scrutiny? The Daily Mail interviewed a 14-year-old girl and cruelly informed her that she looked "apathetic" on TV. The poor girl said "Oh, no!" and then "I was ecstatic!" The DailyMail "delicately" brought up Bill's sex problem. In front of a 14-year-old! That seems kind of wrong, but at the same time, it seems right to question the use of a girl as a backdrop when she can't understand how she is being used.
"Oh, I'm aware," she said. "Yeah. He's a womanizer. I think that that's his social life... And his work should be separate from that."
But does she know that he used a young female in the workplace to have a social sex life in the workplace? Does she understand the concept of sexual harassment in the workplace, how those who care about the equality of women in the workplace have struggled to enlighten people about this concept, and how Hillary Clinton — along with Bill Clinton — participated in a great disenlightenment?

ADDED: I'm seeing an unintentional pun: "the Subdued Spouse" — the sub-dude spouse. When the husband is the subordinate one, he's sub-dude.

Women should start carrying mattresses to Bill Clinton rallies.
That's not quite fair. I don't remember any mattress cushioning Monica Lewinsky.

"The frustration of the people built up to cause this. It’s really no different than the Occupy Movement or a sit-in at a college."

Said B.J. Soper, 39 — who lives near the taken-over federal wildlife refuge —quoted in a WaPo article titled "In Oregon, frustration over federal land rights has been building for years."
“What people in Western states are dealing with is the destruction of their way of life,” said Soper, a father of four who was once a professional rodeo rider. “When frustration builds up, people lash out.... True wealth comes from the land. If they can’t feed their cows, there’s not going to be beef in the supermarket,” he said. “People are no longer [able] to make a living.” Federal agencies, he said, "are taking food out of people’s mouths."

Even as "Wicked" retold "The Wizard of Oz" from the point of view of the Wicked Witch....

... I believe there is a market for "Dennis the Menace" retold from the point of view of of Alice Mitchell.

I'm looking at "In the 1980s a newspaper mixed up the captions for Dennis the Menace and The Far Side, twice!" (via Instapundit at Facebook)...

(Click images to enlarge.)

... and I'm thinking: Yes, the mother of Dennis the Menace — beautiful, long-suffering — who is she? I don't even know her name. I had to look it up. Alice Mitchell. What bad thoughts roil under that placid visage?

January 4, 2016

It's Spokaoke — spoken-word Karaoke.

"The burly fellow in the gray T-shirt and red-and-white-striped suspenders is absolutely killing Patton’s speech to the Third Army."
“We’re not going to just shoot the sons of bitches,” he yells, waving his arms like a maniac as beads of sweat form on his forehead. “We’re going to rip out their living goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun cocksuckers by the bushel-fucking-basket!”...

“There’s something about the embodiment of performing [these speeches] for a group,” says [Spokaoke creator Annie] Dorsen as she sips white wine at a table next to the stage. “It has a certain kind of immediacy. You get a kind of feeling of what it would be like to actually be the intended audience. That becomes really powerful.... I think a lot of people get up there and are surprised that the speech works them as opposed to them working the speech... One guy in New York, he got physically ill after reciting Joseph Goebbels’s ‘Total War’ speech. It’s an uncomfortable thing to speak words you don’t believe.”
I absolutely love this idea. What speech would you do?

"Periodic table's seventh row finally filled as four new elements are added."

"Discovery of four super-heavy chemical elements by scientists in Russia, America and Japan has been verified by experts and formally added to table."

Waiting for the ice...

... on Lake Mendota....


... but it's cooked up and [as far as some youths are concerned] ready to go on Lake Wingra....


WaPo columnist says: "Although Muhammad is not depicted, the idea of religion in some form as a villain certainly comes across" in the cover of the Charlie Hebdo marking the anniversary of the massacre.

Here's the cover, drawn by Laurent “Riss” Sourisseau:

The WaPo piece is written by Michael Cavna, "creator of the 'Comic Riffs' column and graphic-novel reviewer for The Post's Book World." There's no detail to his idea that the character on the cover represents "the idea of religion in some form as a villain." The words are translated as "One year on: The assassin still at large." So that guy is "the assassin," but the only indication of religion is the pyramid with the eye. Can we get some analysis? That's not a Muslim symbol at all as far as I can tell. It has more to do with Freemasons than anything else. And it's on the U.S. dollar bill (and the Colorado state seal and the seal of the city of Kenosha, here in Wisconsin). I'm just guessing the cartoonist meant to attack religion in general and to be very obviously not about Islam.

The kinder, softer side of Donald Trump.

I've noticed it. Have you? Let me pull this out of yesterday's "Face the Nation" interview:
But I would be very enthusiastic, like I am right now, toward the country. We need spirit. We need a cheerleader....
I don't think I have rough edges... I went to an Ivy League school. I was a good student... And I can be more politically correct than any coach that they can get me. I can be the most politically correct person with you. I could say something, at the end of this interview, you would say, wow, was that boring....

Nuclear... has to be absolute last stance. Don't forget, I was against the war in Iraq. I'm not a fast trigger. You have guys that you would think are very low-key. They would be faster than me. I would be a very slow trigger with nuclear....

... I have more respect for women by far than Hillary Clinton has. And I will do more for women than Hillary Clinton will....  And I think I have, certainly within my company, done things that were very different, because, 30 years ago, I had a woman in charge of building a massive building on Fifth Avenue, more than 30 years ago. And nobody would have done that in terms of construction. It was unheard of. I was way ahead. And even to this day, I have so many women executives. And they're incredible. But I have been great to women in terms of the world of business. And I have been given great credit for that....

Bill Clinton — doing his first rally for Hillary — talks about Franklin Pierce and Abraham Lincoln and the need for a President who fits the spirit of the times.

I jumped in somewhere in the middle, when he was reminiscing about his early years with Hillary, drawing from what was meant to seem like a wellspring of emotion. Tears didn't come, but tears were at least implied. What a humble servant of the poor young Hillary was, he wanted us to know.

Then he shifted, for the ending, into some theory of the presidency, about how Presidents succeed when they are right for the time. He talks about Franklin Pierce, who, he tells us, couldn't possibly have succeeded in his time, and then Abraham Lincoln, who, he informs us, wouldn't have been a great President if he'd served in the 1950s. Lincoln was "gripped with crippling depression," and that would not have been successful in the 1950s, but it was just the frame of mind, he tells us, to suit the Civil War.

I don't know if Bill thought that theory up on his own or got it from some American history scholar, but of course, it led to the conclusion that Hillary is what goes with the particular time that we are in now. What exactly is it about Hillary and our time that fit together so well? I don't think he explained it.

Were we supposed to infer that the other candidates, whatever their positive attributes, are somehow not what is needed for our time? I don't know if Bill meant us to think about that, but it called to mind for me something Donald Trump said in his "Face the Nation" interview yesterday:
[O]ur country has no spirit.... But I would be very enthusiastic, like I am right now, toward the country. We need spirit. We need a cheerleader. President Obama is a bad cheerleader. I thought he would be a good cheerleader. I thought he would be a great cheerleader, actually. That's the one thing I thought, is that he was going to be a great cheerleader. He was really a big divider. We need cheerleading.

The WaPo Fact Checker checks "What Benghazi family members say Hillary Clinton said about the video" and comes up empty.

Instead of Pinocchios, we're left with "No Rating": 
Clinton says that in speaking with the families she did not blame the Benghazi attacks on the video. Most participants we interviewed (four out of six) back up her version, saying they do not recall her mentioning a video.... Perhaps it all started with a comment made by [Susan] Rice.... Perhaps the question of who said what at what moment got jumbled over time. Or perhaps Clinton mentioned the video privately to just two people — and not to others.

Clearly we cannot come to a resolution that would be beyond dispute. Readers will have to come to their own conclusions based on the evidence we have assembled.
That is, the evidence is at least all in one place for your perusal. Make your own judgment. 

"Long before Mr. Trump came along, the supposedly immutable laws of politics had begun to fall. Mr. Trump is taking defiance in a nervy new direction."

Writes Mark Schmitt in the NYT.

"White Americans, their activities and ideas seem always to stem from a font of principled and committed individuals."

"As such, group suspicion and presumed guilt are readily perceived and described as unjust, unreasonable and unethical," writes Janell Ross, a WaPo race-and-gender reporter, in a column titled "Why aren’t we calling the Oregon occupiers 'terrorists?'"
You will note that while the group gathered in Oregon is almost assuredly all or nearly all white, that has scarcely been mentioned in any story.
Maybe because it's damned awkward to write "almost assuredly all or nearly all white." Isn't it a problem to just guess they must be white people?
You will note that nothing even close to similar can be said about coverage of events in Missouri, Maryland, Illinois or any other place where questions about policing have given way to protests or actual riots.
Close to similar to what? When reporters were directly seeing activities, they were put in a different position, where they would have had to censor part of the facts they themselves witnessed. But more important, the people engaged in the activities were themselves calling attention to race and specifically wanted to be seen as black and they framed what they were protesting in terms of race. We were told "Black Lives Matter" and criticized if we tried to race-neutralize it with "All Lives Matter." These protesters were regarded by many as "principled and committed" — principled and committed about racial issues. The press presented them in the terms they used, so that was in fact very similar to the coverage of the Oregon occupiers.

And, by the way, it's pretty absurd to say "White Americans, their activities and ideas seem always to stem from a font of principled and committed individuals." I mean, I believe that it seems that way to some people, but it's my observation that white Americans are often portrayed as stupid, ignorant, greedy, and bigoted.

"The Republican presidential candidate’s long-awaited and hotly anticipated first ad..."

"... is set to launch Monday as part of a series that will air in the final month before the Iowa caucuses."
Trump has vowed to spend at least $2 million a week on the ads — an amount that will be amplified by the countless times they are likely to be played on cable news and across social media.

The decision to air television ads — which Trump hinted at for months, though the billionaire mogul has been loath to spend more than he deems necessary — represents a tightly produced new act for a candidate who has fed largely off free media attention.

In an interview Sunday with The Post, Trump said that he has six to eight ads in production and that his was a “major buy and it’s going to go on for months.” He said he hopes the spots impress upon undecided voters that the country has become “a dumping ground.”

“The world is laughing at us, at our stupidity,” he said. “It’s got to stop. We’ve got to get smart fast — or else we won’t have a country.”
Watch it with me:

Finally, it begins: Campaign 2016 — serious and in earnest.

The past week was a slow week, the idea being everyone was looking to family, holiday celebrations, travel, and sleeping things off, and there was no point saying or doing anything politically interesting because nobody would hear it. It was the near silence before the clamor that begins now.

Campaign '16 goes big now. How do you feel about it? Multiple answers allowed!
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Bill Gates has a book reviews blog.

I learned about it from this miniature interview in the NYT, in which he said:
One of the main reasons I started my blog was to share thoughts about what I’m reading. So it is nice to see people sharing their own reactions and recommendations in the comments section of the site.
That's so sublimely bland. But that's presumably his speaking voice. Let's check out a couple reviews on the blog (which is called "gatesnotes"). I picked 2 that I've read. First, "Steve Jobs":
Driven by demons, Jobs could drive those around him to fury and despair. But his personality and products were interrelated, just as Apple’s hardware and software tended to be, as if part of an integrated system. His tale is instructive and cautionary, filled with lessons about innovation, character, leadership, and values.
I'm reading this, thinking Gates writes like the publisher's press release. Then I see the line at the top: "Here’s the publisher’s description of the book." It is the publisher's press release! So far, I'm not reading any blogging by Bill Gates.

Quite a few of the books are "reviewed" this way. For example: "Through circumstances that tend to preclude adult, secondhand description, [Holden Caulfield' leaves his prep school in Pennsylvania and goes underground in New York City for three days." Gates put that up in 2011, so it's not like it's a placeholder until he gets around to sharing his thoughts.

Okay, I found one with an actual Bill Gates write-up: "Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things that Happened":
I don’t mean to suggest that giving an outlet to our often-despicable me is a novel form of humor, but [Allie Brosh] is really good at it.... I get why Brosh has become so popular. While she self-deprecatingly depicts herself in words and art as an odd outsider, we can all relate to her struggles. Rather than laughing at her, you laugh with her. It is no hyperbole to say I love her approach—looking, listening, and describing with the observational skills of a scientist, the creativity of an artist, and the wit of a comedian.
Bill Gates isn't self-deprecating (or self-effacing), but he's self-erasing. He speaks of "we" — "We can all relate..." — and "you" — "you laugh with her." So far, my working theory is that he has no "odd outsider" or other distinctive point of view. The writing is pretty close to that of the publisher's press release he's okay with allowing to speak for him much of the time.

I'll give him one more chance. Here's one for a book I have not read, "Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words," a book by Randall Munroe (who does the comic "xkcd"). This book seems to be cranking humor out of taking the position of knowing very few words. "A dishwasher is a 'box that cleans food holders.'" You can decide for yourself if you're up for a whole book of that manner of foolery. To me, it seems like an idea for a game to play on a long car ride with children. Gates says:
[Munroe] draws blueprint-style diagrams and annotates them using only the 1,000 most common words in the English language... If I have a criticism of Thing Explainer, it’s that the clever concept sometimes gets in the way of clarity. Occasionally I found myself wishing that Munroe had allowed himself a few more terms—“Mars” instead of “red world,” or “helium” instead of “funny voice air.” Of course, that would defeat the purpose of the book....
I would have thought that the feeling of wishing that Munroe had allowed himself a few more terms is what's supposed to make you laugh, but Gates seems to treat the book as a sincere effort to explain things without annoying us with terminology.

I'm not intrigued enough by the Mind of Gates to read much more. But I am going to put Munroe's book in my Kindle and I want to remember more often to check out xkcd and the website Hyperbole and a Half.

IN THE COMMENTS: M Jordan said:
My son got me Munroe's book for Christmas. Actually, his goal isn't to amuse by using a limited vocabulary; it's to force himself to explain complicated things in hyper-simple terms.

As a former writing teacher I wish I had thought of this for a writing exercise. I may teach again (overseas, where I've taught university last) and, with a view toward that end, I cranked out a quick and dirty computer program which allows a person to test their writing against the 1000 most common English words list (I also added 2000 and 5000 most common English words filters). I've tried doing it myself ... that is, pasting something I've written into the program and then rewriting the words that failed the flyers. It's a very helpful and at times difficult endeavor. The result, like Munroe's book, is a strange, almost whimsical but not quite style that is quite arresting. A good exercise.

One last point: I think Donald Trump has a 1000- most common word filter in his brain. 
Great point about Donald Trump!

And great observation about foreign languages which force us to operate within a limited vocabulary. You never know enough nouns, but you can fairly easily get to the point where you can talk about the thing that does whatever it does.

January 3, 2016

Black-and-white in color... today at Odana...



"When Chris Wallace asks Bush if he squandered his initial advantage by failing to come up with a 'message' that would 'connect' with voters, Bush brushes this off as a question about 'process'..."

"... which the media cares about more than he does. Instead, Bush wants to talk about how he's 'on the ballot in every state,' which is 'hard' to do and not every candidate has done. Of course, getting on the ballot is all about 'process,' and Wallace's question was not about 'process'; it was about the substance of Bush's campaign."

Donald Trump — on "Face the Nation" just now — talks about how he feels about getting used in terrorist propaganda.

Trump was excellent, I thought. Here. Watch the extended interview:

"Supreme Court justice who once said 'I am a New Yorker, and 7 a.m. is a civilized hour to finish the day, not to start it."

That was a clue in today's NYT crossword today. Perhaps, "I am a New Yorker" is enough to let you guess the answer if you know the number of squares. But it's not. There are 7 squares, and there's a slightly complicated trick to the puzzle, which is explained here — along with the answer — at Rex Parker Does the NYT Crossword Puzzle."

I tried to find the remark in context. Who was — spoiler alert — she responding to? Did somebody say he got to work at 7 a.m.? It's rather unGoogleable right now, because this one crossword clue is hogging the first couple pages of hits.

A Briton working working in Kyrgyzstan is arrested and faces a 5-year sentence for referring to a traditional local food as "horse penis."

The traditional food is chuchuk, a sausage made from horse meat (including, the article says, "offal"). Michael Mcfeat wrote on Facebook that his fellow gold miners were queueing for their "special delicacy, the horse’s penis." This caused a temporary strike at the mine. The crime charged is racial hatred.

Mcfeat deleted his Facebook post and wrote:
“I would like to take the opportunity to sincerely appologise [sic] for the comment I made on here about the kygyz people and horses penis. I truly never meant to offened anyone and im truly sorry as it was never my intension [sic].”
I would have thought miners would joke around pretty crudely and any offense would be worked out amongst themselves and that calling the horse sausage "horse penis" would be perfectly normal and funny to everyone, like saying "shit on a shingle" in the Army. But maybe there's something different about putting it up on Facebook, especially in English, inviting outsiders to laugh at them.

As for offal, I assume penis is included. Why would you waste it? From what I've heard about horses, you'd be wasting a lot of meat.

There's a long Wikipedia entry for "offal," including details from many places in the world, but not Kyrgyzstan. There is an entry for Britain that begins:
In medieval times, "Humble pie" (originally, "Umble pie") made from animal innards (especially deer) was a peasant food and is the source of the commonly used idiom "eating humble pie", although it has lost its original meaning as meat pies made from offal are no longer referred to by this name...  
Penis only comes up for the Caribbean (Cow cod soup is a traditional Jamaican dish made with bull penis") and China (Extractions of animal penises and testes are still believed to contribute to better male performance and those of the embryo and uterus to the eternal youth of the female).

"God’s hand of retaliation will grip the neck of Saudi politicians."

Said Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Despite the rhetoric, however, the Iranians seemed to be taking steps to prevent the dispute from escalating further. Forty Iranians were arrested on Saturday night for the violence — a sign that the authorities were trying to keep public outrage from getting out of control.
Despite the rhetoric.... But the rhetoric could be read to mean: Leave retaliation to God. Don't do it yourself.  I am reminded of the Christian scripture:
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
And from the Old Testament:
Vengeance is mine, and recompense,
    for the time when their foot shall slip;
for the day of their calamity is at hand,
    and their doom comes swiftly.
I don't know of a comparable passage in the Quran. I am only observing that "God’s hand of retaliation will grip the neck of Saudi politicians" is consistent with an interpretation that Iran will not take revenge.

"We're planning on staying here for years, absolutely. This is not a decision we've made at the last minute." Said Ammon Bundy.

Here = the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, which, in Bundy's words, "has been the tool to do all the tyranny that has been placed upon the Hammonds."

Ryan Bundy said: "The best possible outcome is that the ranchers that have been kicked out of the area, then they will come back and reclaim their land, and the wildlife refuge will be shut down forever and the federal government will relinquish such control. What we're doing is not rebellious. What we're doing is in accordance with the Constitution, which is the supreme law of the land."

There's also Ryan Payne,  U.S. Army veteran, who "has claimed to have helped organize militia snipers to target federal agents in a standoff last year in Nevada. He told one news organization the federal agents would have been killed had they made the wrong move." But his "agenda" is: "to uphold the Constitution. That's all."

"I will never wear black again."

Said TCU coach Gary Patterson, who, desperate, got out of his all-black clothes at half time and put on a purple shirt, quoted in "In stunning collapse, Oregon Ducks lose Alamo Bowl after allowing TCU a 31-point comeback."

(I'm just trying to get to the real bad news from Oregon — the Occupy Oregon/Cliven Bundy thing — but this distracted me.)