April 2, 2022

Sometimes it snows in April...

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Looks grim, but it was nice — big snowflakes, fog on the lake, almost completely deserted. I enjoy the gentle light and the cool air. Warm snow is so much better than cold rain. You enjoy your climate, and I will enjoy mine. The days of temperatures in the 30s and 40s are delightful!

Talk about the weather — or anything you want — in the comments.

The lake pictures were taken at noon. Here's the view of the backyard at 8 in the morning:

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"Ukrainian soldiers pushed through areas around the capital, Kyiv, on Saturday, encountering the grim wreckage left behind by Russian forces retreating from the region."

"The devastated cities and villages around Kyiv bore the hallmarks of Russia’s early assaults and failures: Incinerated tanks, abandoned defensive positions and the bodies of both soldiers and civilians. Despite the collapse, at least for now, of Russia’s initial attempt to seize the capital, it was unclear whether the Russian troops were gone for good or were trying to regroup after weeks of intense Ukrainian resistance and crippling logistical failures."

The NYT reports.

My TikTok selections of the day. I've got 6 for you today.

1. An impressive demonstration of the difficulty of speaking Chinese.

2. Charming sidewalk chalkings that take advantage of real cracks and other anomalies.

3. The father doesn't remember, but the daughter does.

4. She found the right rock for her mermaid pose.

5. From a series of self-defense moves learned from horses.

6. The easiest way to fold a towel is to think of the towel as a Facebook group.

"[Santa Claus] is not affiliated with any party but describes himself as an 'independent, progressive, Democratic socialist.'"

"The man once known as Thomas O’Connor changed his legal name in 2005 and now lives, aptly, in the city of North Pole, outside Fairbanks, where he serves on the city council." 

From "51 candidates: A wild U.S. House race takes shape in Alaska" (Anchorage Daily News).

Santa's a familiar face in the crowd of 51. So, too, is Sarah Palin, who, unlike Santa, does not shake when she laughs like a bowlful of jelly:

"Did you notice Bill Maher did a 'new rules' that was all about toxic masculinity and then two days later Will Smith did that thing? I feel like maybe he was influenced by Bill Maher a little."

Said my son Chris, sending me this clip from Maher's March 25th show: 

 

My response on watching that was: "Wow. That was very pro violence and for the wrong reason/I see your point re smith/And many people, especially women, supported smith."

One can't know if Will and Jada caught that episode of "Real Time with Bill Maher." I'm just saying that, watching the clip, I easily imagined them watching the show and then arriving at the idea that Will ought to stomp up on the stage and whack Chris Rock in the face.

Now, here's how Bill Maher talked about the incident on the new episode of his show, which aired last night:

 

"I just want to say to Will Smith: I got your back. April Fool's. You're a dick."

The revenge of Uncle Fluffy.

This is another piece in the NYT about Will Smith — it's by Melena Ryzik, Nicole Sperling and Matt Stevens — and I think it's worth reading, because it raises the more general problem of what happens to a person who chooses the strategy of niceness:

From his start as a goofy, G-rated rapper and sitcom star through his carefully managed rise as a blockbuster action hero, Will Smith has spent decades radiating boundless likability. But his amiable image was something of a facade, he wrote in his memoir, noting that a therapist had nicknamed his nice guy persona “Uncle Fluffy.”...

Mr. Smith wrote that he had another, less public, side: “the General,” a punisher who emerged when joviality didn’t get the job done. “When the General shows up, people are shocked and confused,” he wrote in “Will,” his 2021 memoir. “It was sweetness, sweetness, sweetness and then sour, sour, sourness.”

I'm interested in the wages of niceness. You can try to be nice, but if it's a strategy — a means to an end — it's only going to work until you snap or — even if you never snap — it can fail because other people perceive you as phony or because they may rely on you to keep up the niceness charade while they proceed to take advantage of you more and more.  

Remember the "Queen of Nice"? Who was that? Rosie O'Donnell? Ellen DeGeneres? Neither of them turned out to be very nice, and maybe deploying the "nice" persona made them even less nice than they'd have been if they'd gone ahead and been straightforward. And yet, where would they be if they hadn't played "nice"? Where would Will Smith be? Would he have been a big success in rap music if he hadn't taken the "goofy, G-rated" lane?

But most of that NYT article is about how he's hurt his family's brand, which was "rooted in his seemingly-authentic congeniality":

"When Gramsci was four, a boil on his back began hemorrhaging, and he nearly bled to death. His mother bought a shroud and a small coffin.."

"... which stood in a corner of the house for the rest of his youth. As Gramsci’s latest biographer... reports...  Gramsci was buckled for hours each day into a leather harness contraption that hung from the rafters, intended to repair his spine. He hardened himself with tests of endurance, such as hammering his fingers with a stone until they bled. He kept a pet hawk, and idolized the Sardinian bandit Giovanni Tolu, who outfoxed the local Carabinieri. At school he was rebellious and insolent. Once, he had a dispute with a teacher who did not believe Gramsci had found a monstrous, snakelike lizard with feet. (He had: It was an ocellated skink.)"

From "The Unlikely Persistence of Antonio Gramsci/No one understood political battle lines better than a Communist politician from Sardinia" (TNR).

Must I cover the Will Smith resigns! story?

This is a story that hit the NYT about 30 seconds after I put up last night's café post. The café post, for me, says I'm down for the night, and I'll see you in the morning. Carry on the conversation without me. 

I could see that the first comment brought up the story. Yeah, I know I can put a post on top of the café post. I do that occasionally. But I am not veering from my path because Will Smith did one more thing. 

He'd like to control the narrative, and he chose this action. If I could see who advised him and hear how they gamed it out, I would be much more interested.

From the Times article:

Facebook prods me to vote — with racialized hands of different sizes.

IN THE COMMENTS: LordSomber says:
Just more "Corporate Memphis" or "Humans of Flat" graphic design. Uninspired and generic, so naturally the tech giants use it to death.

And RideSpaceMountain says:

"Former Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo sued New York’s ethics commission on Friday, contending that its efforts to force him to turn over the proceeds of a $5.1 million book deal were a violation of his constitutional rights."

I'm reading "Cuomo Sues Ethics Panel to Block It From Seizing Book Profits/The lawsuit is the latest example of Andrew Cuomo’s aggressive stance as he returns to public life seven months after resigning as New Yorks governor." 

Aggressive stance! If the government had been aggressive and charged him with a crime, there would be more of a basis for seizing the money he's made from writing a book. It's not aggressive to want to hold onto the proceeds of your book!

"To learn more about cannabis and sex we turned to several experts, including a gynecologist who has surveyed women about their marijuana use."

That's the third paragraph of the NYT article "Cannabis for Better Sex? Here’s What the Science Says. The research is thin, but anecdotal experience suggests that the right dose and delivery method can make a positive difference for some people." 

 If it's about women, tell me it's about women. What's with the "some people"? 

The next paragraph, summing up what the experts said:

It’s hard to say with certainty that cannabis will increase desire or improve your sex life, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the right dose of cannabis can make a woman’s orgasms more satisfying and increase sex drive. This is in part because cannabis can enhance the senses and also alleviate some of the symptoms that inhibit desire, like anxiety, sleeplessness or pain. It can have positive effects for men, as well, but also several negative ones, and women should be aware of its potential downsides, too.

Both men and women have long reported that cannabis alters their sexual experience....

Okay, so there is something here for men (other than the notion that whatever makes things better for women will, by that alone, make it better for men).

Finally, there's this:

According to the International Society for Sexual Medicine, some men report that their sexual performance improves when they use marijuana, while others may experience problems such as less motivation for sex, erectile dysfunction, trouble reaching orgasm or premature ejaculation. 

Let me suggest that "less motivation" explains all the effects listed above — for the women as well as the men. Think about it!

April 1, 2022

At the Cardinal Café...

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... you can talk all night.

I watch TikTok for you — and here are my 9 new selections.

1. An accurate miniature of a heavily graffiti'd ice storage box.

2. The way someone talks when he wants to get you to volunteer to wall-mount his TV.

3. The charitable work of detangling someone's hair.

4. A cat sings the blues.

5. Reacting to the news that someone's tested positive for Covid — in 2020 and in 2022.

6. Seeing if the dog likes celery.

7. A quick animation of Joe Biden, telling about when he was a little boy.

8. Discovering just how introverted you are.

9. A famous fractal — the Sierpinski triangle.

Sunrise — 6:41, 6:43.

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"Several hundred Russian soldiers were forced to hastily withdraw from the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine after suffering 'acute radiation sickness' from contaminated soil..."

"... according to Ukrainian officials. The troops, who dug trenches in a contaminated Red Forest near the site of the worst nuclear disaster in history, are now reportedly being treated in a special medical facility in Gomel, Belarus. The forest is so named because thousands of pine trees turned red during the 1986 nuclear disaster. The area is considered so highly toxic that not even highly specialized Chernobyl workers are allowed to enter the zone.... The Chernobyl facility fell to Russian control on Feb. 24, the first day of the invasion. Workers were on duty for more than 600 hours before being allowed a shift change.... Digging trenches in the forest—considered the most contaminated area of the site—drew widespread ridicule from Ukrainians who work at the site."

 From "Russian Troops Suffer ‘Acute Radiation Sickness’ After Digging Chernobyl Trenches/Several hundred Russian troops reportedly rushed to a special medical facility in Belarus after digging in radioactive soil in a forest near the infamous nuclear plant" (Daily Beast).

"No one escapes the aging process... [But] there is scope for rational debate over when decline sets in, how steep it is, how much variance there is..."

"... among persons within particular age groups, and the degree to which the cognitive effects of aging may, up to a point anyway, be offset by experience of life."

Wrote Judge Richard Posner, in his 1996 book “Aging and Old Age," quoted in "After Posner retired from 7th Circuit, a grim diagnosis and a brewing battle" — a new article at Reuters.

ADDED: It was a big surprise when Posner suddenly retired in 2017 — blogged here — so the additional information that surfaced because of this legal dispute is revealing. We are only learning now that at the time he had received a diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease. 

From the Reuter's article:

"The £1 billion palace boasts helicopter pads, an underground ice-hockey rink, a tunnel to the beach and a spa with a storage area for therapeutic mud...."

"Its lavatories are fitted out with gold-leafed Italian lavatory brushes worth £650 and £900 lavatory paper holders. While only the best is good enough for Putin’s needs, one in five households and about 3,000 schools lack indoor plumbing, according to the government’s own figures."

From "Vladimir Putin’s love of luxury, from designer watches to £650 lavatory brushes/The Kremlin likes to portray the Russian president as a man of the people — just not one of the 16 million living below the poverty line" (London Times).

3,000 schools without indoor plumbing — that's what got me.

The house/yacht distinction — it's a tax question.

More, here, at the Miami Herald. Miami-Dade County has sent the owners a property tax bill of nearly $120,000, but there's a state constitutional law provision barring property tax on boats. What makes a boat? The lawyer for the owners says the county is relying on "the shape and the style and the look" of what the lawyer calls "this boat."

This isn't just an isolated case. This thing — "The Arkup" — has been touted in mainstream media and is intended as a model for extensive new housing development — "small apartments on the water for students, townhouses for families.... housing solutions for a broader audience." I can see why the promoters of this kind of floating house-building stress future benefits for the non-rich, but the real house/boat in issue in this case belongs to rich people.

Who should pay property taxes? Why should land-based domicile-owners pay the bills? Should you have to change that state constitutional law provision first, or is it enough for the government to draw the boat/house distinction in the way that allows for more tax collection?

But houseboats have been around for ages, so you'd think this problem would have been worked out long ago.

"All may contain lard" — "When we decided to put it on the wall, it was a way of not being super-PC. It was more like, Boom, this is how we do it."

Said Giovanni Cervantes, chef and co-owner of Taqueria Ramírez, quoted in "The Unapologetic Poetry of ‘All May Contain Lard’/A menu disclaimer that’s also a mission statement" (NY Magazine).
One fan of the proclamation is Eric Sze, the chef and owner of the Taiwanese restaurant Wenwen, which recently opened nearby: “I loved Taqueria Ramírez when I went, so the fact that they have the line,” he says, “you’re putting your — for lack of a better term — genitals on the table, and showing everybody what you got, take it or leave it.”...
The author Bill Buford calls lard “an expression of utter deliciousness and possibility” with an “ancient, ancient tradition."... Meanwhile, Aaron Foster, who renders lard from whole Pennsylvania pasture pigs at his market Foster Sundry, says it is “something that went away with our grandparents, like knitting and sourdough baking, that has come back into fashion. There’s something outré about it,” he adds, “because our parents wouldn’t be caught dead touching lard, and there’s something nostalgic about it.”

March 31, 2022

Morning snow... plus that turkey who has made our yard its territory.

The view, from the window, at 6:28:

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At 6:52, there's that turkey again:

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Write about anything you want in the comments.

"Will Smith was never asked to leave the Oscars following Sunday's slap, a new report claims, as Academy Governor Whoopi Goldberg says bosses were too scared..."

"... to physically remove the star over fears he was 'manic' and would cause an on-camera scene.... But according to TMZ, Oscars producer [Will] Packer told Smith he could remain at around 8pm, about 35 minutes after the slap and just five minutes before the actor won his first Academy Award for his role in King Richard....  Goldberg was not present at the Oscars and stressed that she was not speaking on behalf of the Academy's board of directors. 'I can't imagine what was going on back there, but I do know that the only person anybody should be focusing on is Will Smith,' she said."

The Daily Mail reports.

"Tommy Thompson is meeting Thursday with former President Donald Trump as he ponders another run for governor."

"The get-together comes three weeks after former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch had her own meeting with Trump as she pursues a bid for governor."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. 

Thompson did a terrible job of running for the Senate in 2012 (losing to Tammy Baldwin). He seemed old and very low energy. "Thompson started at plus 18... But he finished at minus 14." And that was 10 years ago!

Here's a quote of his from 2016, aimed at Trump, as quoted by Trump: "Don, I really like you. Get the hell out of here.… You’re not going to win this state.... But if anything changes, I’ll call you."

Thompson is 80 years old. I can't believe he's offering himself up as a candidate again. 

"There is no legal prohibition on Mr. Trump assembling and publishing photographs that a White House staff member took during his tenure; under federal law, those photographs are considered in the public domain..."

"... and not subject to copyright. There is a public Flickr account, now managed by the National Archives, that has 14,995 photos from the Trump White House, a third of them listing Ms. Craighead as the photographer."

And that's the main thing you need to know, squirreled away in the 16th paragraph of "She Took the White House Photos. Trump Moved to Take the Profit.The former chief White House photographer made plans to publish a book of Trump photos. The former president had other plans" (NYT).

We, the People own these photographs. Go ahead, go into that Flickr account and pick out whatever you like and make a book! It's perfectly free. It's in the public domain!

Were they really this desperate for another get-Trump story? I was almost too jaded to write this. Ridiculous!

ADDED: Why say "considered in the public domain"? They are in the public domain!

Beyond masks... here's the new look for you — and by "you," I mean you who can afford whatever this thing is going to cost.

 

I have a Dyson hairdryer. It cost more than $400.

"No longer will a little girl in a gown be greeted with a 'Hello, princess!' as my daughter had been so many times on our Disney World trips."

"Disney has been pushed to toe the leftist gender line, and it is doing just that.... Now it’s clear that Disney’s commitment to exposing children to inappropriate indoctrination on transgenderism goes far deeper than its opposition to the Florida law.... Why should kids be getting any sort of gender-identity lesson in school or at a theme park?"

Asks Karol Markowicz, in "I’m quitting Disney after seeing it boast about pushing ‘gender theory’" (NY Post), reacting to a statement by Disney Television Animation executive producer Latoya Raveneau that she has a "not-at-all-secret gay agenda" and she was "adding queerness" whenever she could and "no one was trying to stop" her.

Markowicz pretends that the theme park never delivered a gender-identity lesson, but of course it did. You can deny it by restricting the meaning of gender-identity lesson, but that's a con. Cinderella, Snow White... etc. etc.... that was always delivering a gender message. It was indoctrination, just the indoctrination that was traditional and conventional. The princess idea didn't come straight from your little daughter's head. It's a meme that she was infected with. And it's pretty shallow and inane.

I don't know if Latoya Raveneau's vision is deep and intelligent. I suspect it's not. If it forces people out of Disney's suffocating embrace, I think that's good. And now what will you do to feed the souls of your children? 

Markowicz continues:

And why should Disney be in the business of sexualizing kids in any direction? 

As if Cinderella's love for the prince is not sexual! Is your idea of Cinderella just someone who loves fancy clothes and lavish parties? And that too is a sexual orientation: She's not attracted to human beings but to riches and glittering surfaces. Cinderella is better if what she is looking for is real love from a worthy man. That's age-appropriate sexual orientation. 

I dare you to deny that this is sexual:

"I don't have a bunch of shit about what happened, so if you came to hear that, I had like a whole show I wrote before this weekend."

"And I'm still kind of processing what happened, so at some point I'll talk about that shit. And it'll be serious and it'll be funny, but right now I'm going to tell some jokes."

Said Chris Rock last night, as he took the stage for his show at Boston's Wilbur Theater, CNN reports.

He said absolutely nothing more than the bare minimum. It was just on with the show. That's what he did on the Oscars stage too: On with the show.

"On with the show" is an old show business slogan. It's old-timey, so maybe you don't remember it. If you try to Google it, you'll get a first page full of Mottley Crue links. I know there's a way to exclude a term from the search, but I've forgotten how to do it and I've got the distracting prior question whether I need to use those fake umlauts. I see it's a Rolling Stones title too.

Ah, but there is another version of the slogan that gets me to a nice TV Tropes article: "The Show Must Go On":

[I]n live entertainment, the show must go on at all costs... This forces the characters into crazy improvisations, costume changes, awkward stealth to avoid further disrupting the show and any number of disparate things to keep the show going. It must also be remembered that for live entertainers, not only is it about making sure people get their money's worth or ensuring a production continues, performing is something they've dedicated their lives to. It's not something they do, it's who they are, and it's a point of professional pride that no matter what, the show must go on....

Ethel said it best (words by Irving Berlin): 

 

And here's the crazy, over-the-top finale, with Marilyn: 

He'll have to name names then, won't he?

 

If he doesn't, people will infer he made the whole thing up.

The screenshot is from Drudge, and the links go to "Kevin McCarthy Says Madison Cawthorn Admitted He Exaggerated Claims About Cocaine and Orgies: He ‘Lost My Trust’" (Mediaite) and "'He's an embarrassment': Republicans threaten to primary Cawthorn over controversial antics" (CNN).

By the way "admitted he exaggerated" means that the underlying assertion is true. It's just that the words were imprecise. 

I don't remember to use my "embarrassment" tag often enough. You know, there are different ways of being "an embarrassment." An embarrassment to whom? Just himself? Or to the party? Or to a bipartisan group of powerful Washingtonians?

"His decision to get the [face] transplant came about because he didn’t want his children to be bullied and be labeled as 'outcasts' due to his disfigurement."

"Having people scream at the sight of you is upsetting, and I couldn’t imagine that happening in the company of my own children,' he said. He recalled the aftermath of his accident... no one would show me a mirror until my ex-girlfriend at the time came to visit and brought one with her.... I can’t describe the feeling I had when seeing myself like that, it didn’t feel real. I was unrecognizable....'"

Leave it to ex-girlfriends to confront you with the awful truth.

Here's the article, at the NY Post, "I had a full-face transplant and it was the best decision I ever made."

I'm not going to confront you with the visual truth right here. You can click on the link. You will see a terrible disfigurement and a really nicely accomplished face transplant. I have followed face transplants here on the blog since the first one — Isabelle Dinoir — whose nose, mouth, and chin were bitten off by her Labrador retriever. (She was unconscious. Don't judge the dog. But spare me the theory that the dog was just doing his faithful best to wake her up.)

Here are the before and after photos of Dinoir. It's impressive how well it was done the first time:

"I couldn't even begin to imagine it was my face or my blood - or that the dog had chewed my face," she says. The injuries to her mouth, nose and chin were so extreme that doctors immediately ruled out a routine face reconstruction. Instead they proposed a ground-breaking face transplant. 
"From the first time I saw myself in the mirror after the operation I knew it was a victory. It didn't look that good because of all the bandages, but I had a nose, I had a mouth - it was fantastic," she says. "I could see in the eyes of the nurses that it was a success."

Robot dog barks "wear a mask, wash hands frequently, check temperature" — in Shanghai.

 

English translation and the fact that his was video'd yesterday via The NY Post.

March 30, 2022

"The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday that Will Smith was asked to leave the Oscars ceremony after he slapped Chris Rock, but Smith refused."

"'Things unfolded in a way we could not have anticipated,' the academy said in a statement. 'We also recognize we could have handled the situation differently.' The revelation came after the academy’s board of governors met to initiate 'disciplinary proceedings against Mr. Smith for violations of the Academy’s Standards of Conduct, including inappropriate physical contact, abusive or threatening behavior, and compromising the integrity of the Academy.'" WaPo reports. 

The top-rated comment over there: "How hard is it to call security and walk him out like you would have done for anyone else walking on stage and committing an assault then sitting back down and yelling obscenities? The Academy failed, and does not need three weeks with lawyers to figure out what they should have done." 

Second highest-rated comment: "The fact that he sat back down laughed clapped and partied all night with other Oscar winners and nominees says a lot. Disgusting."

I'm not buying  "was asked to leave... but... refused." It was not a serious asking if he could just refuse! 

Mr. Smith, would you like to leave?

No.

At the Wednesday Night Café...

 ... you can talk about whatever you want.

(No sunrise photo today. Sorry! It was raining.)

I watch TikTok so you don't have to. Here are my 5 selections of the day.

1. A young woman demonstrates, in quick succession, the types of singers you find in jazz school.

2. Sometimes the murderous emu is sweet.

3. When you visit and your dad tries to keep you from leaving.

4. Setting the Chris Rock/Will Smith incident to music. 

5. Metallica's James Hetfield sits for an interview with a cute kid.

"She recalled that it was snowing gently when the Germans occupied her town in March 1939. An officer commandeered the family’s house."

"Residents were lining the streets silently, she said, and then, 'as if with one voice, they started singing our national anthem that started with the words "Where is my home?" I didn’t realize that our home was no longer ours, and I didn’t realize that this was the end of our happiness and the beginning of the occupation.' Vera’s mother queued up for four days to apply for the Kindertransport; then, one evening, she announced to her husband at dinner that the girls had secured seats and would be going to England. 'There was a deathly silence. Father looked shocked and terribly surprised,' Mrs. Gissing wrote in her memoir. 'All at once his dear face seemed haggard and old. He covered it with his hands, whilst we all waited in silence. Then he lifted his head, smiled at us with tears in his eyes, sighed and said, "All right, let them go."'"

From "Vera Gissing, Who Was Rescued by ‘Britain’s Schindler,’ Dies at 93/She was not quite 11 when train convoys organized by a London stockbroker carried her and hundreds of other Jewish children from Czechoslovakia on the eve of World War II" (NYT).

"Family’s Balcony Death in Switzerland Appears to Be Suicide, Police Say/The investigation suggests that the victims jumped from the seventh-floor balcony 'one after the other,' the police said."

The NYT reports. 

The police said on Tuesday that their investigation suggests that the four people — a 40-year-old man, his 41-year-old wife, her twin sister, and the couple’s 8-year-old daughter — plunged to their deaths in Montreux in western Switzerland in succession. A fifth person, the couple’s 15-year-old son, also apparently jumped from the seventh-floor balcony but survived, and he is in a coma....

"The culture has little patience for the damaged thug in a T-shirt and jeans who’s lucky if his power extends the length of a neighborhood block..."

"... but it has the stamina to dissect the psychic pain of a mogul in a made-to-measure Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo. It has the wherewithal to pause and consider the complexity of a powerful Black man who says that he was protecting his powerful Black wife, when society too often doesn’t have the patience to deal with anonymous Black folks just trying to get by...."

Writes Robin Givhan in "Will Smith, spit-polished thuggery and disrespect" (WaPo).

"Why do you say that Degas has trouble getting a hard-on? Degas lives like a little notary and doesn’t like women..."

"... knowing that if he liked them and fucked them a lot he would become cerebrally ill and hopeless at painting. Degas’s painting is virile and impersonal precisely because he has resigned himself to being personally no more than a little notary, with a horror of riotous living."

Wrote Vincent Van Gogh in a letter, in 1888, quoted in "A Compulsive Perfectionist/The intensely private Edgar Degas reveals himself intermittently in his voluminous correspondence, in moments of unexpected self-awareness and candor" (NYRB). 

But the article is about Degas, not Van Gogh. We know Van Gogh is interesting. What about Degas? Okay, I scanned the article so you don't have to (and I even have a subscription to the NYRB). Here's a Degas quote for you:

"How can one chat with people like that? Let’s see, with a Jewish Belgian who is a naturalized Frenchman! It’s as if one wished to speak with a hyena, a boa. Such people do not belong to the same humanity as us."

Does TikTok have its own firm, getting out the message that Facebook is aligned with Republicans?

That's my question, as I read "Facebook paid GOP firm to malign TikTok/The firm, Targeted Victory, pushed local operatives across the country to boost messages calling TikTok a threat to American children. “Dream would be to get stories with headlines like ‘From dances to danger,'" one campaign director said" (WaPo):
Facebook parent company Meta is paying one of the biggest Republican consulting firms in the country to orchestrate a nationwide campaign seeking to turn the public against TikTok. The campaign includes placing op-eds and letters to the editor in major regional news outlets, promoting dubious stories about alleged TikTok trends that actually originated on Facebook, and pushing to draw political reporters and local politicians into helping take down its biggest competitor. These bare-knuckle tactics, long commonplace in the world of politics, have become increasingly noticeable within a tech industry where companies vie for cultural relevance and come at a time when Facebook is under pressure to win back young users. Employees with the firm, Targeted Victory, worked to undermine TikTok through a nationwide media and lobbying campaign portraying the fast-growing app, owned by the Beijing-based company ByteDance, as a danger to American children and society, according to internal emails shared with The Washington Post.
Why is the biggest thing about the revelation the fact that the consulting firm is Republican?

What makes a consulting firm Republican?

"Particularly for his wife. And she’s got alopecia. So… not a happy home life."

I got through the entire blogging day yesterday without mentioning Will Smith, but this morning, reading the comments in last night's cafe, I took the prompt to watch a clip of Joe Rogan talking about it. 

That's a 15-minute clip. I still intend to watch the rest of it, but 5 1/2 minutes in, I found myself wondering what Ricky Gervais has said about the incident. Ricky is brilliant, and he's a stand-up comedian who's hosted awards shows and roasted the big stars. Here he is at the 2020 Golden Globes. 

I would expect Ricky to defend the role of the comedian versus the stars, but all he did was one little thing, retweet this tweet from the British "Office" twitter feed that shows the tiniest clip from an old episode of the show:

ADDED: From that 2020 Golden Globes performance: 

 

"Let's go out with a bang. Let's have a laugh at your expense — shall we? Remember: They're just jokes. We're all going to die soon. And there's no sequel."

Oh, but the "just jokes" defense — just jokes at the expense of the hyper-privileged — that's not going to work anymore. It's the Era of That's Not Funny, and the preening empaths are out there in force telling you never ever ever ever to joke about anything that's actually physically wrong with a person. Or something like that. Can we still laugh at bald men? At bald white women? Who knows? I'm guessing we've reached end of the entire tradition of comedians on stage at awards shows making fun of the stars for the amusement of the little people out there in the dark. Whoever they get to emcee will be telling the stars they are wonderful and beautiful. Will Smith smacked the comedy out of the whole show. Get all the jokes out ya fucking mouth, from now until the end of Hollywood.

March 29, 2022

At the Lake Ice Café...

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... you can talk about whatever you want. 

This photo was taken at 6:53. Quite a difference from all that red, purple, and pink in the photo posted earlier today, which showed the sunrise at 6:35. The sunrise time today was 6:44, so this was an example of the importance of needing to get out there early if you want to see the really florid color. It doesn't happen every day. Not even close. But when it happens, it happens early.

Notice that big wall of ice in this 6:53 photo. You may remember yesterday's photo of the ice, looking out in the western direction, but this is the eastern view, and this ice is newly piled up at the shore. Here's a little video I took to highlight how different it was today:

"Russia... said it was ready to set a meeting between President Vladimir V. Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine once a draft peace agreement between Ukraine and Russia was ready."

The NYT reports, in "Live Updates: As Talks Progress, Russia Says It Will Reduce Attacks in Northern Ukraine/The gains in negotiations came as Ukrainian troops appeared to push back Russian forces around Kyiv. Russia said a meeting between President Vladimir V. Putin and President Volodymyr Zelensky could occur once a draft peace agreement was ready."

"If the 2024 presidential election were held right now, the poll finds Trump getting 47 percent support compared to 41 percent for Biden...."

"Vice President Harris performs even worse in a hypothetical match-up with Trump. Forty-nine percent said they would choose Trump, while 38 percent said they would support Harris...."

According to a new Harvard-Harris poll, reported in The Hill

Trump remains the favorite for the 2024 GOP nod, with 59 percent of Republican voters saying they would support him should he take another shot at the White House. Former Vice President Mike Pence and DeSantis are statistically tied for second place, garnering 11 percent and 10 percent support, respectively.

Garnering!

Trump would like you to know he hit a hole-in-one... and Ernie Els was there.

"Rep. Madison Cawthorn says his fellow lawmakers have invited him to take part in orgies in Washington and snorted lines of cocaine right in front of him...."

"'The sexual perversion that goes on in Washington. I mean, being kind of a young guy in Washington, where the average age is probably 60 or 70 – [you] look at all these people, a lot of them that I’ve looked up to through my life, I’ve always paid attention to politics,' Cawthorn, who was elected in 2020, said. 'Then all of a sudden you get invited: ‘We’re going to have a sexual get-together at one of our homes, you should come. What did you just ask me to come to? And then you realize they’re asking you to come to an orgy,' he said."

From "Madison Cawthorn says DC is orgy-filled, cocaine-fueled ‘House of Cards'" (NY Post). 

I know almost nothing about Cawthorn's credibility, but I do sometimes wonder, when I watch Washington politicians and journalists, what drug I am seeing? I don't have the depth of experience needed to analyze this very well. I'm just aware that when you try to understand why people are speaking and acting the way they are, there might be some substance distorting their behavior. There could also be some sort of mind-bending sexual obsession. What are we dealing with, really, when we deal with the human being?

"Apparently the feline decided that it rather liked what it had found because it came back for another snack three times that night."

"The next morning the bobcat returned to cache uneaten eggs in the ground to consume at a later date. That evening the bobcat returned again, but, this time, the python was back on her nest. Weighing about 20 pounds, the feline was clearly aware that the 115-pound python posed a serious threat and, rather than trying to eat more eggs, it padded around the nest at a safe distance for a few minutes before leaving. The next night the camera took a photo of the two predators in a face-off. Apparently, the bobcat felt the clutch was worth fighting for because it returned in the morning and aggravated the python enough to prompt an attack."

From "Bobcats With a Taste for Python Eggs Might Be the Guardians of Florida’s Swamp/Cameras captured the wild feline purloining a Burmese python’s eggs, giving hope that the state’s native species are responding to a voracious, invasive predator" (NYT).

20 pounds versus 115 pounds, but the cat is smarter, and the cat — like a wily human — is going after the next generation.

Morning warning.

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Today, at 6:35.

And yes, we're expecting rain.

"Did the entire admission department threaten to quit? Or did the incoming class turn out to be morons?"

An indelicate question, sourced anonymously at Instapundit, inquiring after the new policy announced by MIT admissions: "We are reinstating our SAT/ACT requirement for future admissions cycles." 

From the policy announcement, there's an excess of delicacy — to the point where you might find it funny or terribly disturbing:

Our research can’t explain why these tests are so predictive of academic preparedness for MIT, but we believe it is likely related to the centrality of mathematics — and mathematics examinations — in our education. All MIT students, regardless of intended major, must pass two semesters of calculus, plus two semesters of calculus-based physics.... The substance and pace of these courses are both very demanding, and they culminate in long, challenging final exams that students must pass to proceed with their education. In other words, there is no path through MIT that does not rest on a rigorous foundation in mathematics, and we need to be sure our students are ready for that as soon as they arrive.⁠

It sounds as though they have a large number of students whom they misled into believing that they could do the work. These students are not morons. Most of us are in no position to jump into fast-paced college physics and calculus! The students I visualize are suffering and properly outraged at the administration for tempting them with an opportunity that they were naive to take. Don't blame the students. Blame the administration. They did it for themselves. That's the right presumption. Now, they're in damage-control mode. 

I'm giving this post the tag "stupid" because of the administration. I don't think any of the students are stupid. They're just at the wrong school because a wrong was done to them.

"The lack of an official White House notation of any calls placed to or by Trump for 457 minutes on Jan. 6, 2021 – from 11:17 a.m. to 6:54 p.m. – means the committee has no record of his phone conversations as his supporters descended on the Capitol..."

"... battled overwhelmed police and forcibly entered the building, prompting lawmakers and Vice President Mike Pence to flee for safety.... The House panel is now investigating whether Trump communicated that day through backchannels, phones of aides or personal disposable phones, known as 'burner phones,' according to two people with knowledge of the probe, who, like others interviewed for this report, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information."

From "Jan. 6 White House logs given to House show 7-hour gap in Trump calls/The House select committee is now investigating whether it has the full record and whether Trump communicated that day through backchannels, phones of aides or personal disposable phones, according to people familiar with the probe" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa (Washington Post). 

Bob Woodward — his name on the article evokes the Watergate scandal and its famous gap — the 18-and-a-half gap in the Nixon tapes. Who did it?!

One indelible image sums up the lameness of the official explanation:

March 28, 2022

Sunrise — 6:43, 6:48.

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Write about whatever you want in the comments.

I watch TikTok so you don't have to. And here are my 5 selections of the day:

1. A high school teacher says the kids roasted him for eating lunch "with no bev."

2. Everyone should live like a grandmother — 10 reasons!

3. What if it had been Ben Affleck slapping Jerry Seinfeld? — asks Michael Rapaport.

4. Maybe time is a landscape, and the dead are on the other side of a hill... or so Einstein seems to have written to a friend whose husband had died.

5. Four young brothers pitch barbershop quartet singing.

"If Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution."

Wrote Judge David Carter, quoted in "Trump probably broke the law in an effort to obstruct Jan. 6 proceedings, judge says/'The illegality of the plan was obvious,' Judge David Carter wrote in a ruling shooting down lawyer John Eastman's bid to keep Jan. 6 documents private" (NBC News).

The ice on Lake Mendota this morning had crushed itself into some distinctive shapes.

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"How an Ivy League School Turned Against a Student/Mackenzie Fierceton was championed as a former foster youth who had overcome an abusive childhood and won a prestigious Rhodes Scholarship. Then the University of Pennsylvania accused her of lying."

A very strong piece by Rachel Aviv in The New Yorker. 

The facts here are very complicated, so I can't summarize it or excerpt enough to enlighten you about this particular case. So let me quote one part near the end that says something more general: 

One of Mackenzie’s professors, Anne Norton, who teaches political science... told me, “I cannot avoid the sense that Mackenzie is being faulted for not having suffered enough. She was a foster child, but not for long enough. She is poor, but she has not been poor for long enough. She was abused, but there is not enough blood.” Penn had once celebrated her story, but, when it proved more complex than institutional categories for disadvantage could capture, it seemed to quickly disown her. Norton wrote a letter to [Amy] Gutmann, Penn’s president, warning that the university had been “made complicit in a long campaign of continuing abuse.” Norton says that Gutmann did not respond.

"People say, 'How did Weinstein get away with that for so long? How did that happen?' and it’s like, we just witnessed it!"

"Everyone saw an assault take place. Everyone in the room with their own eyes. And then if you would have tuned in 20 minutes later, you would have never known that happened." 

Said the comic Nikki Glaser, quoted in "Howard Stern Lambastes Will Smith and Academy Inaction Over Chris Rock Oscars Slap/Comic Nikki Glaser called into the show and said she was also shocked, adding she was worried about what Smith's actions signal to others who don't like a joke at a club and attack a comic over it" (The Hollywood Reporter).

This is a big change from the usual post-Oscars complaint about the stars and all their activism. This time the complaint is about all their inactivism.

"The Kibbe system relies on Old Hollywood archetypes and a balance between what he calls 'yin' (softness, curve) and 'yang' (sharp angles, edges)."

"If you’re all yang — tall and lean with sharp shoulders, like Katharine Hepburn — you could be a dramatic. If you’re all yin, with soft curves like Marilyn Monroe, you’re probably a romantic. Naturals (yang-dominant but 'blunt' rather than sharp, often with broad shoulders, like a ’90s supermodel), classics (think Grace Kelly) and gamines (petite and high-contrast) are somewhere in the middle. The types are modified using adjectives like 'soft' (Sophia Loren is a soft dramatic, for instance) or 'flamboyant' (Audrey Hepburn, a flamboyant gamine). For each one, there is a set of guidelines on how to dress to look one’s best.... The Kibbe system, like the Myers-Briggs test, also has a social component: Finding out that a celebrity shares your type may help you 'feel a connection to another person, a very glamorous and visible and beautiful kind of person,' Professor Emre said.... One entry from Mr. Kibbe’s 1987 book states that romantics, defined by a curvy figure, 'possess extraordinary human empathy' and that logic is secondary to their 'innate experience of a situation.' Gamines might have a 'bubbly energy,' Mr. Kibbe said, and a soft dramatic, with her blend of yang and yin, is both 'bold' and 'receptively accommodating' according to his book. 'The key is the integration of the inner and outer,' Mr. Kibbe said. Some may take issue with the essentialism of such logic. While Mr. Kibbe sees it as analogous to astrology, the system nonetheless suggests that something true and inherent about a person can be gleaned from their bone structure."

From "What’s Your Kibbe Type? David Kibbe, an image consultant who got his start in the 1980s, has watched his body-typing system take off with a new, digitally native audience" (NYT).

Something true and inherent about a person can be gleaned from their bone structure? That's most analogous not to astrology but phrenology.

This craze is out of synch with the current interest in transgenderism. It assumes your mind fits your body.

"I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters, OK?"/"I could walk up onto the Oscar stage and punch the host in the face, and I wouldn't lose my privileged Hollywood status."

 

Let's compare.

1. Shooting somebody is worse than hitting somebody in the face, but Trump was only verbalizing about an imagined event, and Will Smith actually hit somebody in the face.

2. Trump was joking, Will Smith was reacting to a joke and displaying utter humorlessness.

3. In Trump's shooting scenario, the victim isn't a specific person or type of person. It's just a shooting in the abstract, with no motive or victim. There's no implicit endorsement of violence. His point was that he is (or was) the recipient of unconditional love. Will Smith targeted a specific person and modeled a sort of behavior: When your woman is disrespected, you should strike out immediately and violently. 

4. Fifth Avenue is a very conspicuous place, but the stage of the Oscars ceremony is even more conspicuous. Trump only thought of getting away with violence committed right before everyone's eyes. But Smith actually did it — strode onto the stage and hit Rock — showing an immense sense of privilege. 

5. If Trump really did shoot somebody on Fifth Avenue, he would be prosecuted. Even if it was in self-defense, I think in NYC, he'd be prosecuted. But since Smith actually committed the act, we will get to see if he suffers any consequences. He didn't even get escorted out of the theater. He was handed an Oscar a little while later and allowed time to talk and talk about his feelings. So this is looking like the height of privilege.

If you were an 11-year-old boy in 1864 and they told you couldn't go to school for 2 years because you're up to high school, and you can't go to high school until you're 13....

 ... and they told you to avoid books and just "develop physically," but you insisted that you'd rather die than be kept from books, and they said, well, okay then... what is the one book you would want?

 

And here it is. You can read the whole thing at Project Gutenberg — "The Magician's Own Book or The Whole Art of Conjuring/Being a Complete Hand-Book of Parlor Magic and Containing Over One Thousand Optical, Chemical, Mechanical, Magnetical, and Magical Experiments, Amusing Transmutations, Astonishing Sleights and Subtleties, Celebrated Card Deceptions, Ingenious Tricks with Numbers, Curious and Entertaining Puzzles, Together with the Most Noted Tricks of Modern Performers"!

I'm rooting for the coots — coot-rooting — and tittle-tattling on the Canada geese.

On Lake Mendota just now:

Watching the video, I don't agree with my real-time judgment that the geese were harassing the coots. The coots continue their gentle pattern of paddling about together. It seems to be goose-on-goose action. The honking becomes an almost mammalian growling and grunting at 0:42. And at 0:55 to 0:58, you see hot pursuit and biting. A male chasing off another male, I'm guessing. You wouldn't treat the lady-goose like that would you? Biting her ass? I'm thinking it's not true that what's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Kathy Griffin, on setting a bad example and causing worry that one might be targeted for violence.

Now, square that with this:

"An increasing number of digital products that monitor students’ online behavior are being adopted by schools in association with Big tech – so what’s in it for them?"


Chris Rock — punched by Will Smith for a joke about Jada Pinkett Smith's hair — once made a documentary about black people and their hair.

Here's the trailer for "Good Hair": 

 

Here's Rock making the joke, Will chuckling, and Jada not amused, and then Will striding onto the stage and hitting/"hitting" Rock:

 

At 0:42, I felt sure what I'd seen was a fake "Hollywood" punch. Rock stood planted in position and even leaned his face forward, then — it seemed — threw his head back after the seeming contact. 

And Rock recovered so quickly, still smiling, and chattered out "Will Smith just smacked the shit out of me." But if it was scripted, would he have said "shit"? I haven't been watching the Oscars in recent years, but back in the days when I used to care enough to live-blog the hours-long show, I had the tag "fleeting expletives" to keep track of the litigation that arose after Cher's saying "fuck" at the 2002 Billboard awards activated the FCC. Who can even remember what the Supreme Court ultimately did about that threat to free speech? 

But when Will Smith got back to his seat and proceeded to yell "Keep my wife's name out ya fucking mouth! Keep my wife's name out ya fucking mouth!" it was hard to believe it was scripted. But, as I said, I don't know where we are with fleeting expletives these days, and maybe we are right where it would be scripted precisely because it would create the illusion that it was unscripted. 

Then Smith wins the best actor Oscar, and we get to listen to his speech, which give us another chance to assess the real-or-fakeness of the punch/"punch"/slap/"slap":

But if he's such a great actor — do we really still believe the stars who get the statuette are "great actors"? — he should be able to sell a scripted acceptance speech with faux-sincere lines about his being a "river of love" or some such nonsense and to cry seemingly real tears of apology.

What makes me think it was real is that it makes Smith look bad. He looked ugly yelling "Keep my wife's name out ya fucking mouth!" And he overshadowed his own winning of the Oscar. Why would anyone do that? The best explanation is that he lost his temper. But exactly why did he lose his temper? I think we'd need to know more about his relationship with his wife. Remember he was laughing at the joke, and she was looking grim. The camera wasn't on them continuously, but I imagine she said something to him or gave him a look that meant you'd better act now or you are not a man. 

Finally, it's sad that the Smiths aren't proud of Jada's hair. She boldly shaves it down to almost nothing and that's a way of expressing great confidence in one's own beauty. I'm seeing some articles talking about her alopecia, but if you go to that link, you'll see she has a thin line of baldness across the top, and it's something that would be hidden if she didn't shave her head. She's highlighting the beauty of her face and the elegant structure of her head. She's not like those women in Chris Rock's movie who spend so much time at the hairdressers, use harsh chemicals, and cause so much importation of human hair from India

Jada Pinkett Smith could have had any wig she wanted. To go to the Oscars with a shaved head is to make a strong statement that you think this is your best look. Chris Rock said she could play in a sequel to "G.I. Jane," which means she could play Demi Moore's iconic role. Demi Moore is famously beautiful. 

The best response to the joke would have been an imperious smile that meant: Yes, I know I am beautiful. Not: My husband will now punch you in the nose!

March 27, 2022

At the Sunday Night Café...

 ... you can talk about whatever you want.

"For seven years, Geoffroy Delorme says, he lived in the forest with wild deer, sleeping alongside them beneath the trees, eating acorns, lichens and wild garlic..."

"... and fleeing with them when the hunters came. Now 37, he has written an extraordinary memoir of his experiences: a literary sensation in France, and already translated into 11 languages. It has also caused profound unease and scepticism in certain quarters. Is it true? Or is the author a mere fantasist?... Delorme lives with his friends the deer, finding true peace and freedom there. As a boy he always hated school, was 'somewhat timid by nature' and was finally taught at home.... Lacking the material ambition and hypocrisy to forge a career, by late adolescence Delorme was spending whole days and nights in the nearby forests.... Finally he moved to the forest full-time.... 'Disgusted by my own species,' Delorme embraces a 'childlike mysticism' and his motto becomes: 'To live happily, live hidden!' ... He eventually returns to the 'inhuman human world,' as he calls it, to tell his story and fight for his friends.... 'I want to save them from the destruction of this world which is losing its mind.'"

From "Deer Man by Geoffroy Delorme review — the story of a French Mowgli/This astonishing story has been a literary sensation in France. But is it true?" (London Times).

"If my life had not been diverted when I was eight, I would very likely be living in Czechoslovakia where I had friends who were persecuted for what they spoke and wrote."

"As far as I could see, tolerance of dissenting opinion was the sine qua non of a free society; indeed it was the freedom on which the structures of freedom rested. Yet, it turns out, I couldn’t see as far as I thought I could. Back then, all the way to — it seems — the day before yesterday, I saw the battlefront as one between the individual and the state. It is still that, of course, all over the globe, but identity politics has thrown up a phenomenon, a battleground that is not political so much as psychosocial, an intolerance between individuals, and it’s about language. Words speak louder than actions. Sticks and stones will still break your bones, but the idea that words can’t hurt you has been repealed. People are being hurt by words, and consequently are picking up sticks and stones, not in the form of death threats (mostly) but (frequently) in the form of hounding the transgressor out of his or her livelihood.... [P]ersonally I always had faith in the ultimate commensurability of language and reality. When the German Democratic Republic put out that the Berlin Wall was to keep people out it made me laugh. Reality would take care of itself.... I don’t want to criminalise every fool who says the moon landing was faked and there were no gas ovens. Reality will take care of them too. But no one, not even Lewis Carroll, saw identity politics coming.... 'When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less,' [Humpty Dumpty] tells Alice. And that includes pronouns. Will reality take care of it now?"

Says the great playwright Tom Stoppard (in The London Times). 

Stoppard was born in Czechoslovakia in 1937, and his family fled in 1939 (on the day before Hitler invaded). They fled to Singapore, then, because the Japanese were about to invade, to India. The father stayed behind and died in the war, and the mother remarried and Englishman who liked to quote Cecil Rhodes — "to be born an Englishman was to have drawn first prize in the lottery of life"— and to tell young Tom, "Don't you realize that I made you British?"

"Funny how you don’t mention anything about the ludicrous business model and economics employed by the theater and film industry that ultimately squeezed movie goers to the point of no return."

"$150-$200 to take a family to the movies in NYC to see one movie one time or ten months of Netflix to watch unlimited movies with on my big giant affordable TV? It’s a no brainer for the majority of families."

Writes one commenter at this column by Ross Douthat, "We Aren’t Just Watching the Decline of the Oscars. We’re Watching the End of the Movies." 

Douthat's focus is our changing culture:

One of my formative experiences as a moviegoer came in college, sitting in a darkened lecture hall, watching “Blade Runner” and “When We Were Kings” as a cinematic supplement to a course on heroism in ancient Greece. At that moment, in 1998, I was still encountering American culture’s dominant popular art form; today a student having the same experience would be encountering an art form whose dominance belongs somewhat to the past. But that’s true as well of so much else we would want that student to encounter, from the “Iliad” and Aeschylus to Shakespeare and the 19th-century novel and beyond.

Where did Ross Douthat go to college? I had to look it up: Harvard.  

I appreciate the high-tone elite solution that says to cherish the great art of the past. It's all still there for us. That's not beyond agreement with the commenter I quoted. You can screen the old movies on your TV, and the best of all of the 100+ years of movies can be called up on demand. There's no reason anymore to care about what's coming out right now. Show your kids the classics! It costs next to nothing. 

"With nine ad-libbed words at the end of a 27-minute speech, Biden created an unwanted distraction to his otherwise forceful remarks by calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin to be pushed out of office."

"'For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,' Biden said. It was a remarkable statement that would reverse stated U.S. policy, directly countering claims from senior administration officials, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who have insisted regime change is not on the table. It went further than even U.S. presidents during the Cold War, and immediately reverberated around the world as world leaders, diplomats, and foreign policy experts sought to determine what Biden said, what it meant — and, if he didn’t mean it, why he said it."

Write Tyler Pager and Matt Viser in The Washington Post, in "How Biden sparked a global uproar with nine ad-libbed words about Putin/By declaring that the Russian leader ‘cannot remain in power,’ the U.S. president seemed to suggest a drastic change in U.S. policy — prompting a scramble by White House officials." 

Watching the video, I can't understand the basis for labeling the statement "ad-libbed." Biden seems to be reading a speech, a bit robotically and on the edge of stumbling, and he slows down a bit and gets quite emphatic. He seems to build up toward that conclusion and fully intend it as a conclusion. I don't see how it's "an unwanted distraction to... otherwise forceful remarks." It's delivered in a manner that is more forceful than the surrounding remarks.

But how could it have been deliberately scripted? Some White House official — who? — reacted almost immediately and tried to make it go away with an incredibly lame argument that Biden just meant that "Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region."

So, the evidence that it was "ad-libbed" is merely that unnamed associates of the President are saying that after the fact. The WaPo writers assist the White House:

"The temptation of the West for Putin was, I think, chiefly that he saw it as instrumental to building a great Russia. He was always obsessed with the 25 million Russians trapped outside Mother Russia..."

"... by the breakup of the Soviet Union. Again and again he raised this. That is why, for him, the end of the Soviet empire was the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century."

Said Condoleezza Rice, quoted in "The Making of Vladimir Putin/The 22-year arc of the Russian president’s exercise of power is a study in audacity" by Roger Cohen (NYT). 

This is a very substantial article, and there are some excellent photographs — Putin scaring Angel Merkel with a dog, George W. Bush yukking it up with a smilingly sober Putin. 

I'll just add a bit:

Here's the part of the NYT's "17 New Nonfiction Books to Read This Season" that got the most attention from the commenters over there.

 

There are not a lot of comments over there, but here's the one with the most up votes, and it went up 2 days ago: 

Maybe very few people care about actually buying books anymore, or maybe the book-buying public waits until it gets the hard copy of the NYT Book Review, which is part of the Sunday NYT. (Sunday is the 27th; the article went up on line on the 25th.)

But it amazes me that having the pretense of erudition —opining on which new books are worthy — the NYT doesn't monitor the comments and fix errors like this. 

By the way, here's the subheadline for the article: "Two journalists dive into George Floyd’s life and family; Viola Davis reflects on her career; a historian explores the brutal underpinnings of the British Empire; and more." For a moment there, I thought the NYT was recommending 2 books about George Floyd's life. But it's just one book with 2 authors. 

I'm guessing the headline writer thought it was important to use the active voice and to maintain parallelism. So if Viola Davis reflects and a historian explores, then 2 journalists must dive. The authors all simply wrote, but there's an idea out there that says you ought to use vivid verbs, so "write" is systematically converted to metaphor: dive, reflect, explore. That desire for vigorous activity dictated a structure with the writer coming first in the phrase, and that created the ambiguity that made me think there were 2 books about George Floyd.

So the subheading begins "Two journalists dive into George Floyd’s life and family; Viola Davis reflects on her career...." and the poor NYT reader must struggle not to feel that the newspaper is force-feeding anti-white-fragility medicine. But hang on: There's also "the brutal underpinnings of the British Empire; and more." And more! AND. MORE...