November 21, 2020

At the Sunrise Café...


... you can talk about whatever you want.

"What if you had to argue...?


It's a podcast. 

Topics: "Bad arguments, bad evidence, irony, Trump’s struggle, Amy Coney Barrett’s first death penalty case, hypocrisy, Kyle Rittenhouse, problematizing the UW rock, not casting an autistic actor, Michael J. Fox and Parkinson’s and gratitude."

"[H]e talked about how it had all been for the best. Parkinson’s, he said, had made him quit drinking, which in turn had probably saved his marriage."

"Being diagnosed at the heartbreakingly young age of 29 had also knocked the ego out of his career ambitions, so he could do smaller things he was proud of... When Fox was diagnosed, he had been married for three years and his son, Sam, was a toddler. At first, he couldn’t believe it.... There were, he says, some dark days spent lying on the sofa, but after a while he got bored. 'Then I came to a place of gratitude. Finding something to be grateful for is what it’s about,' he says. Optimism is about the promises of the future, gratitude looks at the present. Fox has retrained his focus from running towards what will be, to seeing what is. He and [his wife Tracy] Pollan spent lockdown on Long Island with all their children: Sam, 31, Schuyler and Aquinnah, 25, and Esme, 19. 'We were always linger-after-dinner people anyway, and now we were lingering and talking about what people were going through. Doing jigsaws, Tracy cooking up a storm, everyone there, these wonderful children and this great wife,' he says. When Fox says 'I can’t believe I have this life,' he is not referring to the restrictions of Parkinson’s – he is talking about his happy home.... 'As limited as I am in some regards, if you’d told me when I was diagnosed that I’d have this life now and do the things that I do, I’d have said, ‘I’ll take it.’ I can move around – it takes some planning, but I can move. I can think, I can communicate and I can express affection. What else do you want?'" 

Must Hollywood cast an actor with autism to play a character with autism?

Criticism and responses here, at Twitter: "Sia faces backlash after casting Maddie Ziegler as an autistic teen in upcoming movie Music." Answers from Sia: 

The 12-foot-tall Chamberlin Rock — in the news these days as racist — is featured as a climbing destination at Mountain Project.

It's one of the "the classic, most popular, highest rated climbing routes in this area" — "UW Madison Campus Bouldering":


The route is marked:

There's "Chamberlin Rock East Arete":
Sit start and work your way up the arete using holds on both sides of the corner. Top out. In my opinion this is the best problem on this rock.
In the comments there:
Found some more routes on this little boulder. Hang below the plaque and climb and top out at top left corner. If you avoid using your feet on the ledge you started with it is a bit tougher V2-V3. You can also start on the southwest arete of the boulder and traverse right. If you avoid the top ridge until you top out in the center of the boulder I would rate it as a V3.
The climbers are looking for what they seem to call "problems." Ah, yes... in bouldering, a "problem" is the path you take up the rock. 

We also see this word — "problem" — in critical theory. From the Wikipedia article "Problematization": 
Problematization of a term, writing, opinion, ideology, identity, or person is to consider the concrete or existential elements of those involved as challenges (problems) that invite the people involved to transform those situations. It is a method of defamiliarization of common sense....

You can also look at the rock in a political/social-justice way and figure out the best problem. Indeed, that has been done, and the rock was determined to contain racism. This problem is not a route for climbing but something that requires people to say things about the rock until the authorities feel that their best route — their path for overcoming criticism — is to get rid of the rock. 

The Wisconsin State Journal reports:

The 70-ton boulder is officially known as Chamberlin Rock in honor of Thomas Crowder Chamberlin, a geologist and former university president. But the rock was referred to at least once after it was dug out of the hill as a “n*****head,” a commonly used expression in the 1920s to describe any large dark rock. The Campus Planning Committee unanimously voted last week to recommend to Chancellor Rebecca Blank that the boulder be removed from Observatory Hill. Blank has previously indicated she supports the rock’s removal, though a timeline for removal has not been established. 
The Wisconsin Black Student Union called for the rock’s removal over the summer. President Nalah McWhorter said the rock is a symbol of the daily injustices that students of color face on a predominantly white campus. “This is a huge accomplishment for us,” she said on Wednesday. “We won’t have that constant reminder, that symbol that we don’t belong here.”... 

But the rock was referred to at least once... That one verified usage of the term was in The Wisconsin State Journal in 1925. Oddly enough, this new WSJ article has the word written out. I put in asterisks in the quote, above. Go to the link. They've written it out!

It’s unclear whether or for how long people on campus referred to the boulder as “N*****head Rock.”...

Whoa! They did it twice!

Kacie Butcher, the university’s public history project director, told the Campus Planning Committee... that the rock’s removal presents an opportunity to prioritize students of color and engage in complex conversations.

Complex conversations! If we can have complex conversations, why do we need to move ancient boulders?  

The rock’s next destination has yet to be decided. Options include burying the rock at its original resting place, breaking up and disposing of the rock, or moving the rock to the Ice Age Trail.... Carried by glaciers from perhaps as far north as Canada, the boulder was excavated from the side of Observatory Hill in 1925. Geochronology professor Brad Singer told the committee the department prefers it be relocated so instructors can continue using it as a teaching tool.

And here's a big complication: 

UW-Madison needs to secure approval from the Wisconsin Historical Society before removal begins because the rock is located near an effigy mound. The first step requires UW-Madison to submit a request to disturb a catalogued burial site. All Native Tribes of Wisconsin are notified during the process, which can take 60 to 90 days and includes a 30-day comment period.

A complex conversation topic: Do the Native American Tribes of Wisconsin have more moral authority on this question than the Black Student Union?

Officials estimate the cost of removal ranges from $30,000 to $75,000.

Another complex conversation topic: Is this the best use of the next $30,000 to $75,000 the University spends on racial harmony?

After the rock is removed, the Black Student Union’s focus will shift to generating ideas for how students of color can reclaim the space, such as installing a piece of art, McWhorter said. “So it becomes a way to celebrate instead of having it as an empty space reminding us of what it once was,” she said.

Oh, no! Public art! If only we could see the artwork before the rock is removed and vote on whether the rock is better than the art. It's unlikely that the artwork will be better than an empty unobstructed view, and the rock is highly aesthetically pleasing... except for the plaque. Here's my suggestion — maybe we can have a complex conversation about this — how about just changing the plaque on the rock? Of course, the plaque never said "n*****head." It was always just honoring Professor Chamberlin. Write something new. Use words. Don't destroy the rock. And don't disrupt the Indian burial ground. 

The main reason to stick to the demand that the rock be destroyed or carted away is that you have a demonstrable, physical result — you demanded, they acceded to your demand — and that sets you up perfectly for your next demand... presumably, to take down the statue of Abraham Lincoln.

"Kyle Rittenhouse was released from jail in Wisconsin on Friday afternoon after his attorneys posted $2 million bail..."

"... setting the teenager free as he awaits trial for fatally shooting two men and wounding a third during summer protests in Kenosha, police said. His release came over the objections of family members and lawyers for two of the men he shot. They had asked for higher bail and voiced concerns Rittenhouse would flee, which his lawyers have said he would not. The 17-year-old’s release was funded by donations sought by his attorneys, who appealed to the political right, where Rittenhouse is popular. Those lawyers also are seeking to overturn Democratic President-elect Joe Biden’s victory."

The first and last sentences of a Washington Post article titled "Supreme Court continues capital punishment trend with Barrett on the bench."

First sentence: "The Supreme Court continued its trend late Thursday night of allowing federal executions to go forward, with new Justice Amy Coney Barrett participating in her first capital punishment case on the court." 

Last sentence: "Hall and three others drove the teenager to a motel room in Arkansas, where they assaulted her and then beat her with a shovel before she was buried alive."

ADDED: Notice the switch to the passive voice: "they assaulted her and then beat her with a shovel before she was buried alive." Who buried her alive? 

AND: The writer of the WaPo article, Robert Barnes, draws attention to Barrett's religion:

"Trump is a bully. He’s famous in many well-documented instances of asking or doing things that are inappropriate in most people’s view. I don’t think it would be surprising that he’d do something inappropriate today."

Said Rick Snyder — the ex-governor of Michigan — ironically using the same form of reasoning Trump is using in his effort to fight to win the election: You know what kind of people we're dealing with here, the kind of thing they do....

November 20, 2020

At the Daybreak Café...

IMG_1297 ... talk about whatever you like.

"Blobby globs."

It's a podcast. 

Topics: "Misunderstanding viral media, Biden’s modest calmness, Kamala’s prosecutorial problem, divine conversation." 

"C.S. Lewis once wrote that if you’d never met a human and suddenly encountered one, you’d be inclined to worship this creature."

"Every human being is a miracle, and your superior in some way. The people who have great conversations walk into the room expecting to be delighted by you and make you feel the beam of their affection and respect. Lady Randolph Churchill once said that when sitting next to the statesman William Gladstone she thought him the cleverest person in England, but when she sat next to Benjamin Disraeli she thought she was the cleverest person in England." 

"Prosecutors may still be stigmatized as administrators of racial inequality, but that reputation will perhaps be upstaged..."

"... by the opportunity for public servants to make a name for themselves as fundamentally different kinds of prosecutors, championing measures that are more rehabilitative than punitive. Some have perceived [Kamala] Harris’s conversion to progressive prosecutor as opportunistic, but it is not entirely out of keeping with her record or with evolving public opinion, to which she and other politicians are responsive. And her leadership, as Vice-President, in enacting reform could confirm that prosecution is renewing itself as a noble path to the highest offices, with the ambition to govern by having criminal justice govern less. At the same time, in the wake of Democratic losses in congressional and state elections, some legislators have raised questions about the possibly negative effects of progressive ideas, particularly calls to defund the police. As Democrats evaluate the election results, concerns about achieving majorities might temper some enthusiasm for reform."

From "Kamala Harris and the Noble Path of the Prosecutor" by Jeannie Suk Gersen (in The New Yorker). 

I was surprised to read this statement of Gersen's: "When I was in law school, twenty years ago, prosecution was a form of public service that was thought to carry little controversial baggage." 

When I went to law school, 20 years before that, I heard the clear message, stated absolutely, that if you wanted to go into public interest law, you should never at any phase in your career take any job in prosecution. It would make you toxic to people of the left. 

But who can check the accuracy of messages people remember detecting in the distant past? In the present, I understand the motivation to put Kamala Harris in a flattering light. 

And yet, what puts her in the best light — progressive ideas or law and order? Which way would it be better to skew if what she wants is to win the presidential election in 2024?

"I think they’re witnessing incredible irresponsibility, incredibly damaging messages being sent to the rest of the world about how democracy functions."

"And I think it is … Well, I don’t know his motive, but I just think it’s totally irresponsible.... No, I’m not concerned the vast majority of the American people [might question the legitimacy of my administration]. All the polling data has indicated, although the Republicans who worry about it, it’s higher, but over 78% of the American people believe it’s without question, it’s legitimate. And I think most of the Republicans I’ve spoken to, including some of the governors, think this is debilitating. It sends a horrible message about who we are as a country."

Said Joe Biden, yesterday, when asked about Trump's refusal to concede the election. Transcript.

The press conference was about handling the pandemic, and I was encouraged to see him embrace the decentralized federalism approach: "No national shutdown. No national shutdown, because every region, every area, every community can be different. And so there’s no circumstance which I can see would require a total national shutdown. I think that would be counterproductive."

I like the calmness, the modesty. He's displaying good instincts right now. I'll just give this my "I'm for Boring" tag to gesture at what I like about the emerging Biden administration.

IN THE COMMENTS: Balfegor points to this new poll, which Biden could not have seen when he spoke of "all the polling data" yesterday:
But notice the way the question is asked. It's not about whether enough votes were affected but whether the motive was to affect enough votes. Biden was talking about belief that he really did win enough votes. To believe that is not the same as believing that there were no stolen votes. In that light, these poll results are inconsequential. It's easy to say I'm sure there was some fraud, in some places, and also to believe that overall the result we're seeing is legitimate. It's not perfect, but it's good enough. The point at which you say that varies depending on whether you're happy with the outcome you're seeing now. 

Interesting that the federalist approach did not trigger “Trump-Ian” approach in your remarks.
I didn't write it out, but I thought it. It seemed obvious. I'm not trying to suppress it. Throughout this year, I have defended Trump's federalism approach when he was criticized for not taking over with a top-down national approach. There's this, from April 11th:

"They FIRED YOU?? It's 2020 and companies still don't understand the benefit of digital/social marketing."

Commented one fan, quoteed in "A College Student Behind A Massively Popular Paint-Mixing TikTok Page Was Fired From Sherwin-Williams/Tony Piloseno even used his wildly successful and viral TikToks as part of a digital marketing pitch to the company to appeal to younger members of Gen Z" (Buzzfeed). 

From the employer's standpoint, Piloseno was "in violation of several gross misconduct policies" because he'd "used company tint machines... for your personal use." But he had over a million followers of his TikTok videos that fascinated people with paint mixing, and he'd made a pitch to them about doing viral marketing.

Now, Sherwin-Williams has passed up the opportunity and hurt their own brand. If you got excited about paint colors through Piloseno, you might buy paint and specifically avoid Sherwin-Williams. And yet, companies can't allow employees to use the machines for personal creative projects, can they? You can't have TikTok shoots happening randomly throughout the workplace. 

November 19, 2020

At the Moonlight Café...


... you can talk all night.

"Gazing at intransigence."


It's a podcast. 

Topics: "Still counting the votes, Democratic Party in-fighting, NYC school shutdown, Matt Yglesias doesn’t quite tell his story, gambling on whether Melania wants a divorce."

"This question is pathetic and exactly why people no longer trust the mainstream media. No legitimate journalist would ask this."

Said Melania Trump's chief of staff, Stephanie Grisham, who was asked to comment on speculation that Melania will divorce her husband, quoted in "Vegas may be betting on a post-presidential divorce, but Melania Trump seems all in for her husband" (WaPo).

"Important News Conference today by lawyers on a very clear and viable path to victory. Pieces are very nicely falling into place."

UPDATE: Rudy Giuliani holds a press conference, explaining the lawsuits and citing the evidence.

"[T]here is a lot of demand for me to address the situation at Vox in detail or to assimilate my personal story into a larger narrative about 'wokeness' or the culture wars."

"Personally I’m not a huge fan of navel-gazing. So I’ll just say that my personal interest in reclaiming my status as an independent, blog-like voice transcends any particular issues with any particular publication. I wanted to do this, not go find a different job, and I thank those of you who’ve joined me on this journey."

Matt Yglesias has a thing called "What's wrong with the media" at Slow Boring, his new place.

Are you a fan of navel-gazing
Navel-gazing or omphaloskepsis is the contemplation of one's navel as an aid to meditation. The word derives from the Ancient Greek words ὀμφᾰλός (omphalós, lit. 'navel') and σκέψῐς (sképsis, lit. 'viewing, examination, speculation'). Actual use of the practice as an aid to contemplation of basic principles of the cosmos and human nature is found in the practice of yoga or Hinduism and sometimes in the Eastern Orthodox Church. In yoga, the navel is the site of the manipura (also called nabhi) chakra, which yogis consider "a powerful chakra of the body".The monks of Mount Athos, Greece, were described as Omphalopsychians by J.G. Minningen, writing in the 1830s, who says they "...pretended or fancied that they experienced celestial joys when gazing on their umbilical region, in converse with the Deity". 
However, phrases such as "contemplating one's navel" or "navel-gazing" are frequently used, usually in jocular fashion, to refer to self-absorbed pursuits.

As long as Yglesias brought up wokeness, I just want to say that the jocular use of "navel-gazing" is a micro-aggression. You've got an unexamined premise that there is something backward about Hinduism (or the Greek Orthodox Church).

Not much of an explanation in "N.Y.C.’s Schools Shutdown, Explained."

That's a very short article in the NYT this morning. Highlights: 
The mayor’s 10 a.m. news conference [yesterday] was repeatedly pushed back and finally began at 3 p.m. At a separate news conference earlier in the afternoon, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo shouted at a reporter who asked whether schools would remain open. 
While he was speaking, The Times reported that schools would close on Thursday.... 
Many parents depend on their children being in school for at least part of the week in order to work. Educators and parents had also criticized the city for not improving remote learning even though about 70 percent of children already take online classes full-time. Some students, including those in homeless shelters, have not received iPads or laptops from the city, and teachers have said that some students struggle to log on.

Where's the explanation of the shutdown? I went to that article because it's newer than this NYT article, which I'd already read and which gives the foundation for the questions I hoped to get answered and absolutely did not: 

"'Defund the police' is the second stupidest campaign slogan any Democrat has uttered in the twenty first century."

"It is second in stupidity only to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 comment that half of Trump’s supporters belong in a 'basket of deplorables.'" 

Said University of California-Irvine polysci prof Bernard Grofman, quoted in "'The Far Left Is the Republicans’ Finest Asset’/An intense battle between moderates and progressives has already spilled into public view" by Thomas Edsall (NYT). 

Edsall also quotes from a report by 4 progressive groups — New Deal Strategies, Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement and Data for Progress — "What went wrong for Congressional Democrats in 2020":
The latest choice for Democrats to locate our fear and blame is the slogan from many Black and young activists who marched the streets this summer: “Defund The Police.” Conservative Democrats may change the terms and people we blame and fear year-by-year, but Democrats must take on the Republican Party’s divide-and-conquer racism head-on and not demobilize our own base.... This election, the Black youth leading the Black Lives Matter movement have turned their power in the streets into votes.... When Democratic leaders make unforced errors like showing off two subzero freezers full of ice cream on national television or cozy up with Wall Street executives and corporate lobbyists while Trump tells voters we are the party of the swamp, it is not surprising that we lose.

Edsall links to this especially good Trump ad, which magnificently exploited Pelosi's posing with her refrigerators: 

Anyway, which side does Edsall take? (Do you care?) I'll just quote his last line:
Liberal advocacy groups have become more in-your-face, more intense, partly in reaction to the intransigence of the Trump regime, a development that is in turn irrevocably linked to the intensity of the conflicts across the country and within the Democratic Party itself.

Trump only gets credit when it seems like blame. Oh, he's intransigent! But what Edsall is admitting is that Trump suckered the Democratic Party into fighting itself. How did he do that? It was quite a bit more sophisticated than just being "intransigent" and thus causing other people to become "more intense." 

The Washington Post viewpoint on obscurity: "For three hours, an obscure county board in Michigan was at the center of U.S. politics."

That's the front-page teaser, along with the headline, "Wayne County Republicans ask to ‘rescind’ their votes certifying the election result," which links to an article titled "Wayne County Republicans ask to ‘rescind’ their votes certifying the election results." 

Wayne County is Detroit! Wayne County is not obscure. Or — I see the ambiguity — is The Washington Post calling the county board level of government obscure — obscure everywhere, everywhere there are counties? There are no counties in Washington, D.C., so the narrow viewpoint from Washington may be that counties don't matter.

No counties in Washington?! Is this news to you? But there once were counties in the District of Columbia. Here's a map from 1835:

November 18, 2020

At the Sunset Café...


... you can write about anything you want.

"Against Thanksgiving."


It's a podcast.

Topics: "Biden and embarrassment, Mo Willems and aging, kids and coronavirus, the war on Thanksgiving, shunning the Trumps, ogling in Pakistan, and the depiction of bad people as ugly."

"For as long as there have been stages and screens, disability and disfigurement have been used as visual shorthand for evildoing..."

"... a nod to the audience that a character was a baddie to be feared. But disability rights advocates say this amounts not just to lazy storytelling but stereotyping, further marginalizing an already stigmatized community that is rarely represented onscreen." 

Other examples given in the article: "The Joker. Lord Voldemort. All manner of scarred Bond villains and superhero antagonists. Dr. Poison. Freddy Krueger. The Phantom of the Opera. Shakespeare’s hunchbacked, butcherous Richard the Third." 

Yes, but — speaking of hunchbacks — the greatest disabled literary and movie character is a hero, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame":


Here's Anne Hathaway's apology:

"When I step outside, I step into a country of men who stare. I could be making the short walk from my car to the bookstore..."

"... or walking through the aisles at the supermarket. I could be wrapped in a shawl or behind two layers of face mask. But I will be followed by searing eyes, X-raying me. Because here, it is culturally acceptable for men to gape at women unblinkingly, as if we are all in a staring contest that nobody told half the population about, a contest hinged on a subtle form of psychological violence."

"Just five short years ago Jared and Ivanka were dinner-party royalty here in Manhattan. It’s that kind of place."

"They had money, they had youth, they had celebrity. They were thin. I’m told that their manners were impeccable, so you’d never know that his father was an actual felon and her father a de facto one. Besides, you can’t hold family against someone, can you? We don’t choose how we’re born. But from then on, we do make choices, and we’re accountable for those. Jared and Ivanka are about to be held accountable...."

This desire for revenge is so ugly, but I'll take Bruni's word for it that it's impeccable manners within the context of "dinner-party royalty here in Manhattan." He said "here," so he must know.

Your side won, so why can't you be graceful about it? Will your next column be about how Joe Biden would bring everybody together if only the losing side weren't so intransigent?

"We have every reason to believe a Trump memoir would be primarily misinformation, ungrounded opinions and flat-out lies."

"Don’t pay him to do it and don’t give him the legitimacy of a contract with a major publishing house. If you’re going to set yourself up as a gatekeeper, you have a responsibility for what goes through your gate"

Said Celeste Ng, a best-selling novelist, who says she'd protest if her publisher (Penguin Random House) was going to publish a Trump memoir — quoted in "A Trump Memoir Would Sell. Will Publishers Buy It?/Some publishing executives worry their authors and staff might rebel, but they say their bigger concern would be ensuring the book’s accuracy" (NYT). 

But Stephen King, who hates Trump, took the free-speech side: “Anything he wrote would be a pack of self-serving lies, but I believe in the freedom of people to read what they want, and I hate censorship... Let him publish, if he wants. I hope my publisher won’t be the one to do it, but in any case I can’t wait to see the critics take him apart.” 

Notice that the free-speech position denies your opponent the glow of victimhood and gets the speech out there where it can be attacked.

Anyway, obviously Trump will get his book published. The president of the conservative publisher Regnery is quoted saying,  'I’m hoping [the other publishers] will stand by their principles and not get involved... so we have a better chance of picking it up!" And everyone knows Trump could self-publish his book... like he self-publishes his tweets.

"I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, other people get it, too. They realize how ridiculous the whole image of Thanksgiving is."

Said "Lyz Jaakola, 52, a member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, recall[ing] the catharsis she felt as a young woman watching the movie 'Addams Family Values,' a dark comedy released in 1993":
In one scene, the Wednesday character, cast as Pocahontas in a children’s Thanksgiving play, goes off script to take violent revenge on the Pilgrims. “You have taken the land which is rightfully ours,” she calmly seethes. “Years from now, my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans and drink highballs.”

That's from an NYT article, "The Thanksgiving Myth Gets a Deeper Look This Year For many Native Americans, the Covid-19 toll and the struggle over racial inequity make this high time to re-examine the holiday, and a cruel history."

Is this year a particularly good time to revisit the negative side of the origins of Thanksgiving? 

At first, I thought no. For millions of Americans, Thanksgiving is a tradition within their own family's story, and that tradition is sadly disrupted by the pandemic. Many of us have recently lost loved ones, and we all have suffered for almost a year from the enforced distance from family and friends and that separation feels especially awful with the approach of Thanksgiving — the holiday that has come to mean gathering indoors with a big group of people we love. It's about love, family, and food, not being upper middle class (which is what that "cardigans and highballs" business is supposed to mean).

But then I thought, sure, why not? Why not pile on and kick people while they're down? We're already feeling terrible. Give us something else to feel terrible about. We're deprived of loving warmth we'd come to expect at this time of year, so fling open the window and make it as cold as possible. Can't do Thanksgiving this year? Well, you should have never been doing Thanksgiving anyway, so let's just call this Year 1 of America Without Thanksgiving, and let's try to think of other sacrifices you need to make. 

Stop asking what am I thankful for. Start asking what more can I give up.

AND: Let's consume the entire Addams Family scene: 


Here's Wednesday's speech:
Wait, we can not break bread with you. You have taken the land which is rightfully ours. Years from now my people will be forced to live in mobile homes on reservations. Your people will wear cardigans, and drink highballs. We will sell our bracelets by the road sides, and you will play golf, and eat hot hors d'oeuvres. My people will have pain and degradation. Your people will have stick shifts. The gods of my tribe have spoken. They said do not trust the pilgrims, especially Sarah Miller. And for all of these reasons I have decided to scalp you and burn your village to the ground. 
As long as we're being urged to consider the whole story, look with clear eyes at Wednesday's vision. It entailed terrorism and genocide.

November 17, 2020

At the Tuesday Night Cafe...

... you can talk about whatever you want. 

"We don’t really want to see Mamaw at Thanksgiving and bury her by Christmas... It’s going to happen. You’re going to say hi at Thanksgiving, it’s so nice to see you..."

"... and you’re either going to be visiting her by Facetime in the ICU or planning a small funeral by Christmas." 

That's how the President of the State Health Office talks to Mississippians, as reported in the Mississippi Free Press.

And a doctor warned that if you travel you'd better drive with special care, "because there’s nowhere for you to go if you have a car wreck."

"Schools Should Be the Last Things We Close, Not the First/Why do we keep asking children to bear the brunt of a lockdown?"

A NYT op-ed by Aaron E. Carroll. Carroll is a pediatrics professor at the Indiana University School of Medicine. 
Cases have definitely been more common in school-age children this fall. But when schools do the right things, those infections are not transmitted in the classroom. They’re occurring, for the most part, when children go to parties, when they have sleepovers and when they’re playing sports inside and unmasked.... The playbook for keeping schools as safe as possible has been understood for many months...
[O]ur schools are not, for the most part, prepared to deliver high quality educational content online. Kids are also social animals and need safe in-person interactions for their mental health and development....  Closing schools also exacerbates social and economic disparities.... Students who fall behind will have an incredibly difficult time catching up.... 
Almost everything else should be put on pause first. This is what Europe is doing. No one can explain why, once again, the United States is choosing its own path....

My hypothesis would be that both Europe and the United States are putting the interests of adults first and the difference is which adults — parents or teachers.  

"My dream from the time I was probably 7 or 8 was to be 50.... That was just always my goal."

"But you have to accept that you are where you are. Like, whatever it is, that’s kind of what it is. It’s probably not going to get a lot better, probably not going to get a lot worse. But, I mean, nobody said to me, 'You’re going to be struggling as an artist for X number of years, and then it’s going to work out.' When you’re younger, you wake up and you work. You don’t know if anyone’s even going to see it. You don’t even have a space to do it in. Now I have a drawing table! I press a button, and the light turns on, and I can trace things. I have that accessible to me at any time. I get to dress weird. I get to have long hair. I’m going to get a tattoo. People say, 'How are you going to feel when you’re old and have that thing?' I’m already old!"

Since we talked about embarrassment 2 posts down, I should include this: "Is embarrassment about unstructured creativity why parents stop drawing? Embarrassment is a learned disease. It can be cured. It’s about willingness to fail."

Willems is estranged from his parents — "when I started to see some of the harmful behavior that had happened to me starting to be moved over to my child by them, that was the line" — and his only child is trans — "One of the great things about queer kids in this culture is that they have to have done the work. They have to do the questioning and say: 'Who am I? What am I? Where am I in society? What risks am I willing to take or not take to be authentic?'"

"One more lame defense you hear from Republicans: Democrats did this to Mr. Trump. But that’s false, too."

"Democrats did indeed focus on Russia’s assistance to Mr. Trump’s election campaign. But they did not claim that he wasn’t president. Hillary Clinton immediately conceded. President Barack Obama invited Mr. Trump to the White House and attended the inauguration." 

The "lame defense" is put into words — "Democrats did this to Mr. Trump" — that seem easy to refute. The word "this" carries a silly amount of weight. What is "this"? What are these Republicans actually saying the Democrats did to Trump and how does it compare to what Trump and his supporters are doing to Biden now? Which is worse?!

Democrats didn't just "focus on Russia’s assistance." I won't take the time to write out all that Democrats did over the entire Trump presidency. And "Hillary Clinton immediately conceded" because the outcome was obvious on the first day. How would she have behaved if it had been as close and open-ended as the 2020 election? 

"I find this more embarrassing for the country than debilitating for my ability to get started."

Said Joe Biden, quoted in "'More People May Die' Because of Trump’s Transition Delay, Biden Says/Adopting a graver tone, the president-elect said that President Trump’s refusal to authorize a transition could have deadly consequences" (NYT). 

He'd said "If we have to wait until Jan. 20 to start that planning [to distribute the vaccine], it puts us behind. More people may die if we don’t coordinate." And yet... the embarrassment for the country is the real problem.

Why would embarrassment be a greater problem than actually complicating the transition? Possible answers: 

1. Biden is mentally weak, and none of his assertions stand up to close scrutiny. This literal parsing isn't worth our trouble. No one should care about this level of precision. The mainstream media won't.

2. Biden blurted out the truth! He's not really having any serious trouble with the transition, but he wants the credit and dignity he deserves for his accomplishment winning the election. He cares about how it looks, and it looks bad. It's embarrassing!

3. It's a crafty statement designed: A. To assure people that the Biden administration can and will deal with all challenges that may arise including any Trump interference with the transition, and B. To pressure Trump, a man known for his vanity, who may enjoy making life harder for Biden but who just might relent if he's thinks he's not effective at all but merely embarrassing himself and the country he said he'd make "great." 

4. America's image in the world is actually more important than the reality of how well the vaccine is distributed and exactly how many people live or die. Or so Biden believes. 

Pick the best line of reasoning:

Which of the 4 explanations is closest to the truth? free polls
ADDED: Poll results:

November 16, 2020

At the Evening Café...


... you can write about whatever you want.

"Pretzel in pocket."

A very short podcast for reasons explained in the first minute.

Topics: "Pretzels, height, crabs, white-presenting voters, roll-off voters, Wikipedia, Billie Eilish, George Harrison, David Bowie, Chrissie Hynde, Emanuel Macron."

A midday café...


... an open thread.

The photo has a jittery effect, but that was there in real life. It's not out of focus.

It was 6:53 a.m. — and that happened to be exactly the official sunrise time today.

"A major influence on Jimmy Wales’s conception of [Wikipedia] was an essay by Friedrich Hayek called 'The Use of Knowledge in Society'..."

"... published in 1945, and Hayek is virtually the father of postwar neoliberalism.... Hayek’s argument about knowledge is... markets are self-optimizing mechanisms.... This theory of knowledge is not unrelated to the wisdom-of-crowds scenario in which a group of people are guessing the number of jelly beans in a jar. The greater the number of guesses, the closer the mean of all guesses will come to the true number of jelly beans. A crucial part of crowdsourcing knowledge is not to exclude any guesses. This is why Wales, in his role as Wikipedia’s grand arbiter, is notoriously permissive about allowing access to the site’s editing function, and why he doesn’t care whether some of the editors are discovered to be impostors, people pretending to expertise that they don’t really have. For, when you are calculating the mean, the outliers are as important as the numbers that cluster around the average. The only way for the articles to be self-correcting is not to correct, to let the invisible hand do its job. Wikipedia is neoliberalism applied to knowledge...." 

"For some reason, animals keep evolving into things that look like crabs, independently, over and over again."

"What is it about the crab's form that makes it so evolutionarily successful that non-crabs are apparently jealous of it?" (Metafilter).

"Why did the Democrats win the Presidential vote but do so poorly in everything further down on the ballot -- Senate, House, and state-level races?"

"There are a lot of theories: a) Republicans liked Republicanism, and conservatism, even Trumpism, but they didn't like Trump! b) Swing voters liked Biden but were turned off by left wing Democratic themes — "defund the police,” Medicare for All, cutting edge progressivism on gender dysphoria in 8-year olds, etc. c) Voters in general wanted Congress to be a check on a Democratic executive. All plausible. But what if the explanation is something simpler and less profound -- mechanical even? The essential idea was proposed by veteran campaign reporter Walter Shapiro. It’s based on the idea of 'roll off,' the tendency of some voters to vote for candidates at the top of the ticket while leaving the nether regions of the ballot blank.... If this is true, what more explanation do you need? Dems simply made a strategic mistake: They pushed early, mail-in and absentee voting, which may have won them the presidential election but which also brought them a bunch of voters who, in their rush to rid America of Trump, left the other parts of the ballot untouched...."

"Why Are So Many Latinos Obsessed With Demonizing Black Lives Matter? It's Complicated."

This is an article from October 5th — at WLRN (the Miami NPR affiliate) — that begins "Joe Biden is expected to win the Latino vote big. But not so big in Florida." With hindsight, we know that the big Latino vote win did not happen. There was, in fact, puzzling drop in Latino voter support for Democrats. Let's mine this article for some clues about why that happened. Remember, this is public radio:
Many Latinos who back President Trump bring the racial — and racist — complexities of Latin America to their attacks on the racial justice movement.... 
[T]his summer many Latinos started to loudly express contempt for — and falsehoods about — the Black Lives Matter (BLM) racial justice movement. For months, Latinos for Trump rallies — like one in Miami Lakes where an organizer shouted BLM “wants to tear down the Biblical definition of family!” — have been trumpeting bogus claims about the movement being anti-American. 

"US stocks rose sharply Monday, and the Dow was closing in on 30,000, after Moderna said its experimental Covid-19 vaccine was 94.5% effective against the coronavirus."

"Last week, Pfizer (PFE) said that a vaccine it developed with German drugmaker BioNTech was more than 90% effective against Covid-19."

CNN reports.

Why I'm reading about a shooting that took place in 2007 over the question of exactly how tall was James Brown.

1. In the first post of the morning, I asserted: "Some of the best videos have been made like that, with the singer randomly walking along someplace mouthing the lyrics and interacting with this and that." Instead of naming any actual video, I just wrote, in parentheses and italics, as if that helps, "(Yeah? Which ones?!)" 

2. That loose thread nagged at me for 3 hours — from about 4:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. — and I tried to call to mind a great video that fit the description. I came up with "Brass in Pocket" and watched the delightful video, even though it does not fit the description:


3. Who cares? I like it anyway. Primed by a good YouTube experience, I took the websites suggestion to watch "David Bowie imitates Mick Jagger!!"


4. Bowie does do a quick, excellent Jagger impression. About 2 seconds of that video, but watch the whole thing. You'll get to a part about how his wife bought him an old suit of Little Richard's and he must not have been so little after all because the suit was way too big for Bowie. 

5. That got me looking up how tall the 2 men were. Have you noticed the internet is ready to tell you the height of various people? Just yesterday I was watching a video of Bob Dylan and David Crosby singing at the same microphone and Dylan seemed to tower over Crosby. The internet says Dylan is 5'9" and Crosby is 5'10". Maybe it's something about the shoes or the camera angle.  

6. In honor of the first post of the day, which got this list started, I pause to see if the internet will give me the answer for the famous philosopher named in that post, and I'm pleased to be informed: René Descartes was 5'1". Anyway, it turns out that David Bowie and Little Richard were the same height: 5'10". Maybe Bowie's wife got conned on that suit deal. 

7. Since I was interested in the height of Little Richard, the internet assumed I would be interested to know that James Brown was 5'6". That is pretty interesting. If you didn't know that fact, I could see how you might get into an argument with somebody who — knowing the fact — would annoyingly stand his ground. And that's what happened in January 2007: "Man shot over argument about James Brown's height" That happened not long after "Brown, who was known to wear lifts, died of heart failure Dec. 25 at age 73."

French President Macron accuses American media — with its critique of systemic racism — of legitimizing terrorism.

He spoke with Ben Smith of the NYT, who wrote
[Macron said] “When France was attacked five years ago, every nation in the world supported us.... So when I see, in that context, several newspapers which I believe are from countries that share our values — journalists who write in a country that is the heir to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution — when I see them legitimizing this violence, and saying that the heart of the problem is that France is racist and Islamophobic, then I say the founding principles have been lost.”

Smith proceeds to speculate that Macron is adjusting his message because he is likely to face "the far-right leader Marine Le Pen" in the next election, in 2022. 

"OK, so here's a weird thing to happen at your temp job. A chunk of the country decides that you, personally, are trying to steal the election from the president of the United States."

"This actually happened to a guy. He's in this video that's been circulating online, retweeted by Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., viewed over 5 million times, of him. He's this worker in the Georgia vote counting operation. In the video, you see him at a desk in short sleeves, people doing their jobs all around him. He picks up one piece of paper after another, puts them in a stack. And then, something happens. He flinches and he slams down a piece of paper kind of angrily — or that's how it looks in the video. The sound on the video is somebody narrating who's not identified — 'This dude has a fit about something, flips off a ballot, and then crumples it up.' That's more or less true. The guy gives a finger to something and then does crumple up some piece of paper and then drops it to the side. The narrator and so many commenters online for the video assume this is a Trump ballot. And this fits the mold of all the things the president has been saying about the election being stolen."

So begins the new episode of "This American Life." (That link goes to the transcript. Here's the audio.)

"George Harrison once sent a handwritten letter to a Beatles fan asking them to trash Paul McCartney’s car."

Far Out reports. 

The fan, Susan Houghton, presumably calculating what it would take to get Harrison to choose her letter as one to write a response to, had asked him how to wash her car. Harrison wrote out a 7-point list of instructions, the 7th point being: 
Now proceed to 20 Forthlin RD. with about 6 buckets full of dirty muddy greasey water, where a shiney Ford Classic will be seen. Spread contents of the buckets evenly, so as to leave a nice film of muck over the car. You can now return home knowing you have done your deed for the day. Thank you!!!

Harrison was more of a jerk than you might think if you mostly just listen to his song lyrics. So spiritual! 

"I got born into the material world /Getting worn out in the material world/Use my body like a car/Taking me both near and far." 

Do you think of your body as a car your spirit rides around in? Do you admire a man who does?

But enough of that jerk George. What was this "Ford Classic" of Paul's? I don't know exactly when George wrote that letter and gave out what seems to have been Paul's home address. But here's a GQ article from this year, "Paul McCartney's car collection is a tour de force." It says Paul has a 1962 Ford Consul Classic 315. 

Wikipedia's "Ford Classic" article has this picture (not specifically Paul's car):

(cc Charles01)

"You think that you're the man/I think, therefore, I am/I'm not your friend/Or anything, damn."

So sings Billie Eilish in this new video, which I'm reading about in Vanity Fair — "Jimmy Fallon Parodies Billie Eilish's New Video, Angers 30 Rock Staff" — and watched only so I could understand what Jimmy Fallon had done that pissed people off... and because I like Eilish enough to check out the song, especially since she's highlighting Descartes' famous quip:


Here are the lyrics — at Genius — where the annotations include the information: "The video is just the way the song feels to me of just kinda like careless and not really trying.... It’s some random, chaotic, don’t care shit." Some of the best videos have been made like that, with the singer randomly walking along someplace mouthing the lyrics and interacting with this and that. (Yeah? Which ones?!)

Here she's in an empty mall at night, but — as in a dream — the food places are lit up and the fresh food items are ready to be taken and eaten. Notably the pretzels. It's a realistic dream for COVID times. Just to go to a mall again and have a stupid pretzel. Wouldn't it be nice?!

Now, I'm up to speed to watch the Jimmy Fallon parody...


Ha ha. COVID dream becomes COVID nightmare. I wish I had a "pretzel" tag, but I won't start one because it would be annoying to add retrospectively, given the metaphorical use of the word. I quoted someone in 2012 saying Mitt Romney "twisted himself into a pretzel, speaking vacuously." How boring to sift through such outdated ephemera. Mitt Romney twists himself into a pretzel, therefore he is. 

But there are also tasty crumbs to be found in a search for "pretzel." There's this — "Pretzels and free will" —  from the first half-year of this blog:

November 15, 2020

At the Sunday Evening Café...

 ... you can talk about whatever you want.

"The limbo of desperados."


It's a podcast. 

Topics: "Obama’s book, Kamala Harris as VP, Timothy Leary, art and free speech, Trumpsters vs. anti-Trumpsters, Hispanic voters and socialism." 

This is a thread to talk about the podcast. The next post up is the café (i.e., open thread).

"But while Black activists remain excited about Harris’s ascent, many now worry that the administration will not deliver much beyond her historic election..."

"... a fear sharpened by Democrats’ disappointing performance in congressional races, which has dramatically limited Biden’s maneuvering room. Their worries are underlined by the ongoing uncertainty over what exactly Harris’s portfolio will be in the Biden administration, and how much freedom she will have to chart her own course on issues like racial justice and immigration.... Biden has not announced a portfolio for Harris, the way Biden handled the economic stimulus for Obama, and Harris’s allies are watching anxiously to see if she will be allowed to choose her top staffers or if Biden loyalists will be installed.... But the prospect of Harris carving out her own identity within the administration would be a departure from the traditional role of the vice president as a low-profile servant of the president, one without a separate agenda.... As Biden was contemplating whom to choose as his running mate earlier this year, his inner circle was split over Harris. Some worried she would seize any opportunity to advance her own career, citing her attack on Biden’s record on race during the Democratic primary...."

I'm reading "Harris’s allies wonder anxiously: Will she have real clout?" by Chelsea Janes and Sean Sullivan in The Washington Post.

"Where is the evidence?"

When is a sign not a sign? When it's art?

I'm reading "Nick Cave’s Truth May Be Writ Large, but Is It a Sign?/The village of Kinderhook, N.Y., is not thrilled with the mark this artist made on a gallery, so the municipal government is demanding that it come down" (NYT).
The black vinyl letters in the artwork “Truth Be Told” measure 21 feet high and stretch some 160 feet across the facade of the 1929 red brick building that now serves as the School, a branch of Manhattan’s Jack Shainman Gallery.
The artwork is intended to start a "conversation" about the death of George Floyd, but the conversation is "about whether the text-based work is technically a sign or not." If it's a sign, it's a violation of law and it needs to come down, because Shainman was denied a permit for a 21'x160' sign/not sign.

"[The Hispanic] community is not a get-out-the-vote universe... We’re a persuasion universe and should be treated like whites."

Said Chuck Rocha, "a longtime Democratic consultant," criticizing Democrats who "see Black and brown people as the same," quoted in "There Was No Knockout, So Democrats and G.O.P. Regroup for Next Round/Voters delivered a convincing victory for Joseph R. Biden Jr. but a split decision for the two parties. Now they face perhaps the most up-for-grabs electoral map the country has seen in a generation" (NYT).

He's saying — to put it bluntly — that black people can be counted on to vote for Democrats if you can just get them to vote. They're in the "get-out-the-vote universe." But Hispanic people are like white people. They're in the "persuasion universe." Just getting them out to vote doesn't work. They can — and did — vote for Republicans. The House districts that the GOP flipped in this past election were in what the NYT calls "heavily Hispanic or Asian regions." 

What's wrong with the Democrat's persuasion to Hispanic-Americans and Asian-Americans? 
“Defund police, open borders, socialism — it’s killing us,” said Representative Vicente Gonzalez, a Democrat from South Texas... The “average white person,” Mr. Gonzalez added, may associate socialism with Nordic countries, but to Asian and Hispanic migrants it recalls despotic “left-wing regimes.”

Representative Harley Rouda of California, an Orange County Democrat who narrowly lost his bid for re-election... said he suffered with centrist voters and his district’s numerous Vietnamese-American voters, many of whom recoil from the rhetoric of socialism....

"His almost zealous commitment to moderation rankled some progressives, who had assumed that his soaring campaign rhetoric meant he was a visionary bent on overturning the status quo."

"Whenever he felt stuck, he fell back on empathy and 'process.' They sound like incommensurate traits — one is inventive and literary, the other is bland and technocratic. But for Obama — who in this book demonstrates an almost compulsive tendency to imagine himself into the lives of others (whether it’s Hillary Clinton, John McCain, or, in one passage, a Somali pirate) — a sound process 'was born of necessity.' Decisions that were made after taking into account a variety of perspectives reassured him that he wasn’t blinkered by his own...."

I'm reading "In ‘A Promised Land,’ Barack Obama Thinks — and Thinks Some More — Over His First Term" (NYT). This new book review, by the regular NYT nonfiction book critic Jennifer Szalai. 

The book is 700 pages long and only goes up to May 2011 — which means it includes "his roasting of Donald Trump at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner on April 30 and the killing of Osama bin Laden the day after" but does not reach "the 2016 election, his abdication of his own 'red line' in Syria, the entrenchment of the surveillance state and a discussion of drone strikes." But, Szalai assures us, "This isn’t to say that 'A Promised Land' reads like a dodge." Ironically, that reads like a dodge. Szalai could be thinking that cutting off at May 2011 was a dodge, but the dodge was well-shrouded in contemplative prose so that it doesn't read like a dodge.

"When darkness fell, the counterprotesters triggered more mayhem as they harassed Trump’s advocates, stealing red hats and flags and lighting them on fire."

"Scuffles continued into the night as the provocateurs overturned the tables of vendors who had been selling pro-Trump gear and set off dozens of fireworks, prompting police to pepper-spray them. At 8 p.m., violence broke out five blocks east of the White House between the president’s supporters, who wielded batons, and his black-clad detractors, many of whom had participated in racial justice rallies throughout the summer. As the groups approached the same intersection, they charged each other, brawling for several minutes before police arrived and cleared the area.... [A]lmost none of [Trump's] backers wore masks. Among their ranks were white nationalists, conspiracy theorists and far-right activists carrying signs demanding action that was already being taken: 'Count the legal votes.' Trump had thrilled them when his motorcade appeared on Pennsylvania Avenue shortly after 10 a.m., prompting fans to scramble to the side of Freedom Plaza to catch a glimpse.... 'Trump, pack your [shit]! You’re illegitimate!' [counterprotesters] yelled into their megaphone... A family of four on Capital Bikeshare bikes — the father with an American flag tied around his neck like a cape — were cut off by a line of counterprotesters as they tried to leave a tense scene outside the Supreme Court about 1 p.m. 'Get out of our city!' a young woman in black yelled. 'You lost, losers!' shouted a man. The father and his teenage son began to chant 'U.S.A.!' and raised their fists as police officers surrounded the family and pushed them out of the crowd."

"You are looking for a way out of the decadent aristocratic game, the limbo of Jet Set desperados. I’ll show you the way."

Said Timothy Leary to Joanna Harcourt-Smith, quoted in "Joanna Harcourt-Smith, Lover of Timothy Leary, High Priest of LSD, Dies at 74/Traumatized by her experience with the psychedelic Pied Piper, she spent decades 'composting' her thoughts about him and learning to start her life over again."

She was 26 and he was 52 and a fugitive from justice when their lives intersected. She was with him when he was recaptured.
“Neither the counterculture nor the prosecutors and prison system knew what to make of her,” Michael Horowitz, Mr. Leary’s archivist, said in a 2017 interview. “Her outspoken, upper-class European manner put people off,” he said. “She had an edge and knew how to get her way. Tim empowered her, and she in turn was tremendously loyal to him, dedicated to getting him out — whatever it took. Alienating many in the counterculture was the fallout from that.”

He got out of prison in 1976, as the 2 of them became "federal informants" That led Allen Ginsberg to call her "a C.I.A. sex provocateur." The feds put them in the witness protection program — "outside Santa Fe under the aliases James and Nora Joyce."

They were both alcoholics and fought all the time before splitting up. Ms. Harcourt-Smith moved to the Caribbean and lived on a sailboat for a few years. She stopped drinking and taking drugs in 1983 and settled in Santa Fe, where she began life anew. “I felt like a child who grew up in the forest,” she said... “I had to relearn everything.... I had so much shame and guilt that I could barely write.”

The great filmmaker Errol Morris has made a documentary about her that will be on Showtime soon. She wrote a memoir "Tripping the Bardo with Timothy Leary: My Psychedelic Love Story."

It doesn't have any one star reviews at Amazon, so I read the 2 star reviews. Here's one: