Author Archives: Brad Warthen

The kids aren’t getting smarter — or any more responsible

queue

A friend sent me this picture a little while ago. I immediately asked whether she was still there, and could get me another shot without that car in the way.

She said it wasn’t hers; she had gotten it from a Tweet:

I checked with the guy who posted it, and he said he took the picture at about 3:30 p.m. today.

That’s the same spot pictured in this previous post, at 5:48 p.m. on Sept. 9.

The earlier shot was less… impressive, if that’s the word you want to use.

It almost seems irrelevant to ask, but how many masks do you see? No, I don’t see any, either.

What does one say about this kind of indiscriminate, homicidal behavior?

I dunno. Here’s what Chris Trainor of The State had to say:

Oh, one more thing: I don’t think they’re waiting to get into Subway. It’s about the bar next door. But that’s just a guess on my part, based on what I was told the last time. I asked Lee Snelgrove, and he didn’t know — he was just riding by…

A real DNC Membership Card? Thanks! But no thanks…

Y’all know I’m a fan of Jaime Harrison, but I’m going to have to turn down his latest offer, which came today via email.

The message was headlined, “Brad’s 2021 DNC Membership Card,” and sure enough, down in the body of the email, there it was:

unnamed

Note that even though it had to be a bogus, random bunch of characters, I smudged out the supposed “ID” number. I’ve never given a penny to the DNC, but I was worried they might actually have me on file (else why do I get these emails?) from having given to Jaime, or Joe Biden. Or maybe from that $5 I gave ex-astronaut Mike Kelly at the last minute last year. Or the very first contribution I made to anyone — that was Mandy Powers Norrell.

Because, you know, that’s something I started doing last year — giving (very small amounts) to candidates I like. And since I started doing it in 2020, the year that there wasn’t a single Republican I would vote for who had opposition, I only gave to Democrats.

But a membership card? Save that for the people who want one.

The email claims there have been 102,753 such people so far. Well, good for them. Obviously, you don’t need me…

I guess actual humans never even glance at these things before they go out

jamessmith

Why isn’t this site performing better, Jessica?

I get a LOT of unsolicited emails from people offering to help this blog perform better.

Usually, they start with some nonsense about how the sender has been looking at my site, and finds it utterly fascinating, but could help me make it better for a very reasonable price. Then, it always, always, fails to give me any reason to believe that the sender has ever so much as glanced at the blog.

Sometimes I get one for some other site to which I have a connection. Today, I got this one:

Hello Jamessmith.com Team,
 
I would like to have a discussion with you regarding the web promotion strategy for your website Jamessmith.com. We wish to work out a proposal to strengthen the online presence of your website, via a strategically planned web promotion campaign. In today’s online era, you should be focusing on the new revolutionary ways of generating traffic (and subsequently, leads).
 
We are curious to know if you are aware that a few issues bugging your website and sorting out these will help you get the best returns out of your website.
 
1. Your website seems to be attracting traffic, but this traffic is almost stagnant and limited, which affects potential sales as you move forward.
2. Your website doesn’t feature in Google’s first search page for some of the major keywords in your niche, which affects visibility and your business.
3. Your website has been diagnosed with On-Page and On-Site issues, which affects the ranking.
4. Your backlinks profile is not efficient enough to help your search engine visibility.
5. Your website is currently not being properly promoted online according to Google’s new guidelines (after latest Google Panda & Penguin update), which is affecting your marketing strategy and goals.
6. Your presence in the social media platform is minimal. This is depriving you of a huge market of prospective referral clients.
7. Your website may be penalized by Google.
8. Social media profiles are not updated regularly.
9. A low number of internal and external quality links present on your website.
10. Not updating fresh contents for your website and blogs as per the latest Google guideline (Penguin & Panda).
And many more…
 
We are expert in running a promotional online marketing campaign for websites. We have a host of ethical services and techniques, which you can utilize to improve your website’s performance. 
 
Also, let me update you that our service prices are very affordable and cost-effective which will come up within your budget. 
 
We are also doing website designing and redesigning at affordable cost and fast delivery within 2 weeks. As we are familiar with search engine guidelines, so the website will be search engine friendly and technically sound. Also, we are giving 3 months of free website maintenance service.
If there is/are any bad reviews regarding you/your website, our ORM campaign will help you to push down the bad reviews from 1st page to 3rd page within 45 days of the campaign.
 
If my proposal sounds interesting for your business goal, feel free to email me, or can provide me with your phone number, Whatsapp number or Skype Id and the best time to call you.
I would be very glad to hear back from you.
 
Best Regards,
Jessica
Search Engine Consultant

These things crack me up. I mean, look at all those specific suggestions, meant to give me the impression that ol’ Jessica has been burning the midnight oil studying jamessmith.com with great zeal and intensity. She knows all about it! And she’s an expert! She’s going to fix it!

Of course, if an actual human being with a modicum of experience on this planet — or on the Web, for that matter — had looked at the site for 30 seconds, she would have concluded that:

  • This site is defunct, and has long stopped performing its original function. The homepage is a shell from which all links lead to empty pages without content. Which disappoints me because sometimes I’d like to refer back to those releases I put up during the campaign, but they’re gone.
  • This is not a site aimed at “sales.” It’s a political campaign site.
  • The campaign was in 2018. That datum might not be on that page, but a few seconds on Google would tell you right away. Which is a step any human wanting to know anything about this would take, long before sending anyone a 456-word email in an effort to make a “sale.”
  • “Your presence in the social media platform is minimal.” Say what?!?!? Assuming that this is 2018 — which is what you seem to be assuming — I’m pumping out social media like a madman! Social media is one of several full-time jobs I’m killing myself doing, day and night! Oh, wait… I had a little flashback there. You almost made me forget for a second that this is 2021….

And so forth…

Pretty much every bullet point can be dismissed with, “Yeah, that might be interesting if this were October 2018…”

OK, I know you’ll say, “Then why don’t you take down the whole site?” Well, first of all, I don’t have that job any more. I’m not even sure I have the access.

I don’t know why that shell is still operating. I don’t much care. It’s not bothering anybody. Maybe I’ll ask James next time I run into him (which doesn’t happen often, because pandemic). Or maybe I won’t. This isn’t a question likely to stay in my head long. For that matter, I have no particular reason to think he even knows that homepage is still up.

I have sympathy for Jessica, assuming there is a Jessica. Back during my newspaper career, I thought that having to sell something to people would be the hardest thing in the world (the people in advertising always had my pity). I had it slightly wrong. The hardest thing in the world is selling by way of cold calls. Mind you, this isn’t the worst kind of cold-calling — that would involve actually talking to busy people, in person or on the phone. But it’s still a thankless task.

Sympathy aside, though, this is ridiculous…

One last gift — six of them, in fact — from our old friend Burl

Arthur meets his destiny.

Arthur meets his destiny in “Excalibur.”

My eye fell across my blogroll — way down there on the right-hand rail, below the little box that shows my most recent Tweets — and I was thinking, “Probably time to go through that and see if anything should be removed, or added.” I do that about every five years, whether I need to or not.blogroll

There I saw the link to my high school friend Burl Burlingame‘s “Honolulu Agonizer,” and I felt a pang of loss. As you know, we lost him suddenly almost two years ago. I also knew that in the last few years before his death, he had sort of lost interest in his blog, and had seldom posted.

I went to see, thinking I’d probably leave the link up anyway, assuming the blog was still there. That blog helped me reconnect with Burl after 38 years or so. I had been so glad to find it, and to get to correspond with him and reflect the more or less parallel tracks our lives had followed, as newspapermen and then bloggers. You’ll see the Agonizer mentioned in what I think was the first post on my blog in which I mentioned Burl. That was in 2009. From then on, he joined our conversation here periodically.

So I looked at his old blog, and found myself delighted.

In the last couple of months before he died, Burl had inadvertently given us a parting gift — he had posted some of his movie reviews, and other pieces he’d written, from over the years. I guess they were favorites of his, but I can’t ask him, so I don’t know. Maybe something had just come up that made him think of something he’d written long before, and since he’d looked it up, he posted it.

The thing about being a old newspaperman is, the stuff you wrote back before everything was archived electronically can feel sort of dreamlike, lost in the mists of time: Did I really write that? What did I say exactly? So if you go back and dig it up, perhaps as a tattered, brownish clipping from a moldering cardboard box in the garage, it’s natural to decide to put it out in the sun here in the Brave New World, and let others look it over. Make it clickable, so to speak.

(After a couple of my kids learned that I reviewed the original “Star Wars” for my paper, they told me they wanted to read it. They asked me years ago. I’m pretty sure it’s in a box somewhere in the garage, or the attic, and I’d love to share it with them. But I don’t know where to start…)

I think Burl may have physically retyped these from paper versions, because I’ve run across a word or two that he missed in his haste, and I doubt they were originally published that way. In any case, I appreciate him taking the trouble.

There are only six pieces, but I enjoyed them. And you should know that one of them was termed, by a writer for Vogue and The New Yorker, as “The Greatest Movie Review Ever Written.

As to my favorite, it’s a tough call between his reviews of “Excalibur” and “The Final Countdown.” But so that they might be shared with y’all as well, here’s the full list, as he reposted them, the most recent on top, blog-style:

  1. “Memphis Belle,” originally published Nov. 9, 1990. I really enjoyed this film. Burl says it wasn’t a great one (and it wasn’t), but finds good things to say about it anyway. It was highly Hollywoodized, but as Burl says, “It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. It matters what the soldier believes.” Its topic, the first B-17 crew to hit 25 missions and get to go home, is treated neither as nightmarishly as in Heller’s Catch-22 (in which the number of required missions kept rising just before Yossarian got there) nor as realistically as my uncle’s real-life experience — Uncle Jack was in such a hurry to hit his own personal 25 that he flew with any crew that had an opening and would take him up. So it was less of a team thing for him. He got shot down three times. The last time was behind German lines. He was MIA when my cousin Mary Jane was born. But the Underground got him back, and he got to go home, where he resolved never to fly again. But back to the movie, which was fun. Burl had some real-life perspective to bring to the subject — not only was he a professional expert on airplanes of the period (when we visited his museum in 2015, they were restoring a B-17), but his father was a fighter pilot in the Eighth Air Force. At the end he mentions the plane sitting out rotting in the weather in Memphis. Memphis was where I went from Hawaii, where Burl and I graduated from high school. I lived in a dorm on Central Avenue. If I drove west on Central toward downtown, I’d pass that plane, sitting on a pedestal outside the Tennessee National Guard Armory. I knew it was called the Memphis Belle, but I didn’t know much else about it until much later.
  2. “Excalibur,” originally published April 14, 1981. This one must have been a cover story for the features section or something. It weighs in at 1,741 words! For those to whom that has no meaning, the review below of “The Final Countdown” is 498 words long. Here, Burl spends 420 words before even mentioning the movie. You might think that’s a lot of throat-clearing, but I think it’s my favorite part (of course, I’m a digression kind of guy) — it tells of the development of Arthurian legend, starting with several paragraphs of bio on Thomas Malory. So no, not just a movie review. For a newspaper piece about a popular movie, it takes an enthusiastic whack at the Matter of Britain. (Not a deep dive, but a plunge nevertheless.) Makes me think all reviews should be this long, at least. Read it and learn about one of the trippiest films of the early 80s, plus other stuff.
  3. “It’s Annoying Being White,” an essay written for Martin Luther King Day, 1993. This piece is very Burl. You had to know him, or at least have a similar background: “Being a kid of the ’60s. I thought this would all be over with by now. Harmony would break out between cultures by the ’90s. We’d be the ‘golden race’ that James Michener predicted, a blend of skin colors and ethnic cultures. I grew up in the world’s most integrated neighborhoods, U.S. military bases, where failure to recognize an individual except by rank was discouraged. Instead, things are more fractionated than ever…” Very much like my own perspective, only I was even more deluded: Being a military brat of the ’60s, I thought it was over already. Not necessarily because of the Civil Rights Act, or the fact that the military had been integrated in the dark ages, in 1948. It was because of all the comedy I saw on TV: Flip Wilson, Richard Pryor, Godfrey Cambridge. I thought, If people are joking about it on prime time, this stuff must all be behind us now. Imagine my shock as I grew older, and came to understand the complexity of comedy better.
  4. “Let There Be Rock-AC/DC,” originally published Sept. 16, 1980. This one interested me less than the others because I’m no AC/DC fan. But it’s always instructive to see what Burl has to say about anything having to do with pop music. Burl had been playing in bands himself since high school. At our senior class talent show, he and another guy performed together — the other guy on guitar, Burl on one of his many harmonicas he carried around with him (years before we’d heard of Elwood Blues). Lacking a talent, I performed with several friends in a slapstick routine called “The Flying Marcellos.” As a family of horrifically idiotic Italian acrobats, we were a huge hit, but I know I’d be embarrassed to see it today (fortunately, back then one’s friends didn’t perpetuate your every idiocy for you with their phones). He’d played with different bands ever since. His oeuvre was… broad. In later years, he was in a heavy-metal ukulele band called Mötley Üke. I am not making this up. And Burl always had interesting observations to make, whatever the topic.
  5. “The Final Countdown,” Aug. 5, 1980. I love that he included this, because — since Burl is an internationally known expert on the Pearl Harbor attack as well as a talented reviewer, his perspective on this is particularly valuable. I thoroughly enjoyed this film, even though it may have the most disappointing ending in the history of Hollywood (something I confirmed by watching it again last night on Prime) — the big finish that the whole movie has prepped you for just gets snatched away. I don’t know whether that was for budget reasons (the promised ending would have been extremely expensive to stage in 1980) or because it would have changed history to the point that there would have to be multiple sequels, and Hollywood didn’t think “franchise” that way back then, or what. I just know it was a monumental letdown. But what led up to that was a lot of fun. Anyway, never mind what I think; read what Burl thought…
  6. “Cannonball Run II,” July 10, 1984. Why include this? Because this was the piece that earned Burl  the “Greatest Movie Review Ever Written” title. Crappy movie, but it inspired greatness.

After those six items Burl posted in those last couple of months, the most recent thing you see is a review of “Dunkirk” from 2017, posted when it was first published.

Anyway, enjoy them. I’m pretty sure Burl would have wanted you to. I certainly did.

With Burl on Ford Island, 2015...

With Burl on Ford Island, 2015…

Rep. Russell Ott, pro-life Democrat

Russell Ott statement

Russell Ott’s statement about his vote on S.1.

As we spoke on the phone today, I kept hearing bubbling, crackling sounds in the background, like something wildly boiling over. I asked Rep. Russell Ott what was going on.

Oh, he said, that was people applauding during the signing ceremony for S.1, the abortion bill that The State describes thusly:

S. 1 requires doctors to perform an ultrasound to detect a heartbeat before performing any abortion. If a heartbeat is detected, the doctor would be prohibited from performing an abortion unless the pregnancy threatens the woman’s life or could cause severe harm to her health, if the fetus has a detectable anomaly that is not compatible with life or in cases where the woman reports being the victim of rape or incest. If a woman reports to a doctor that she was the victim of rape or incest, the doctor would then be required to report the crime to the local sheriff with or without the woman’s consent.,,,

Apparently, Henry just couldn’t wait to sign that one.

As it happened, this was what I had called to talk to Russell about. He thought he had found a quiet place where we could speak. But for him, there is no quiet place on this issue.

Russell Ott

Russell Ott

Back in December when he was re-elected as assistant leader of the Democrats in the South Carolina House, he had looked forward to working on sentencing reform, hate crime legislation, rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine, and trying to get relief and support to small business owners.

“At the end of the day, that is what it means to be a Democrat,” he told the Times and Democrat. “To look out for the working families, to make sure they have everything they need, and our support as much as possible.”

Some days, it’s easier to be a Democrat than at other times.

It turns out that once the legislative session began, the party that actually runs the State House had another priority in mind, one that led Rep. Ott to put this on Twitter yesterday:

That led to a lot of warm responses from his fellow Democrats, such as “Disappointed is a gross understatement,” and “Yeah you should definitely be primaried. Shame on you.” Someone called him “American Taliban.” So far, there are 25 replies. Of course, that’s not so bad when you consider that at the same time, there are 131 “likes.”

 

So I reached out to him in a text, noting that the reasons he cites as to why he’s a Democrat are the reasons I support Dems such as James Smith and Joe Biden. But abortion is one of the main things that keeps me from being a Democrat myself, so I could sympathize. So I wanted to chat with him before putting his statement on the blog.

He called and we spoke. I noted that it seemed he was having a rough day. He said he’d “probably had some easier ones, but it’s OK.”

He’s not bothered too much by the Twitter stuff. “Twitter’s not even real, Brad. You know that.”

“Come into my district,” he said. “People are not upset.”

Not that he dismisses the concerns of those commenting on Twitter. He respects their views. He respects everyone’s views, as he indicated in his statement. Having gotten into the habit in recent days, he asked me what mine were. I told him that might take years to relate (as y’all know), but I got to talking a bit about some of my problems talking with people who agree with me on so many things, but not on this. And while I’m not a party member, I touched on the problems I’ve had as a Catholic, in light of the fact that about half of my coreligionists voted for Trump over this very issue — setting aside everything else it meant to be pro-life.

He’s a Methodist, but he seemed to understand. Similarly, he wishes some of his more critical fellow Democrats would look at the big picture of what it means, and has long meant, to be a Democrat.

“I put up the amendment that led to the flag coming down” at the critical moment of the House debate in 2015. He’s fought for public education. He’s pushed for expanding Medicaid. “And I certainly have been applauded for that.” But for the moment, at least on Twitter, “That was all gone.”

“But that’s OK,” he says. “There’s a lot of people out there that acknowledge like I do that this is not an easy issue.”

A lot of Democrats maintain their position is not only the right one, but not to be questioned. Ditto among the Republicans, as we know. “Let’s not ignore the hypocrisy on the other side,” he emphasized. As he said in his statement, he’s a Democrat because he cares about babies after they’re born, as well.

“I’m the representative of people who sent me here to … address each issue, as they come,” he said. “I know that the opinion that I hold is not unique. A lot of people that vote Democrat a majority of the time agree with this.”

But that’s because they’re not the professional Democrats, the ones on Twitter. While many of those are fine people, ones Russell gets along with most of the time, sometimes they can be kind of like the Republicans: “Both parties weaponize this issue, and I just reject that position… If that’s the way that person feels, then fine… But if you believe that’s a human being, it’s a baby…” You have to do what you think is right.

“We shouldn’t have a litmus test in this party.”

Russell isn’t alone, of course. I just reached out to him because of the statement he had posted. Democratic Rep. Lucas Atkinson voted with him. I should probably reach out to him, too. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me, but I found out the other day that we’re related. He’s… hang on; let me go look at the tree… my 3rd cousin, once removed.

But they’re a small group.

There’s nothing new about pro-life Democrats in South Carolina, though. Remember Vincent Sheehen, Democratic nominee for governor in 2010 and 2014? Pro-life Catholic, and one of the smartest and best people in the Senate? Yeah, he got dumped by the voters for the sin of being a Democrat — fer bein’ one a them libruls, you know.

When I brought up Sheheen, Russell pointed out how close Vincent came to being governor in 2010. He said it seems like more Democrats in the state would look and notice how well a pro-life Democrat did. And also note the fact that Jaime Harrison ran as a conventional, pro-choice Democrat, and was easily defeated in spite of having raised more money than any Senate candidate in American history.

But never mind political calculation. Russell voted the way he thought was right. And he expects others to do the same, whether they agree with him or not…

Nikki’s strange perspective on history, and everything else

Nikki oped

I was attracted to reading this by the grammatical error in the headline: “The Media Tries to Divide Republicans.” My plan was to mock it on Twitter.Fz9ZWKUO_400x400 (1)

Of course, it should have said, “the media try,” what with “media” being the plural of “medium.” Duh.

The author continued the error in the piece, with maddening frequency: “But the liberal media doesn’t care about that. It wants to stoke a nonstop Republican civil war… If the media gets its way…” Ow, my head…

Yeah, I know some editors, even at some leading newspapers, have given up on using that word correctly. They’ve just gone along with the stupid, rather than correcting such things. (Sort of the way the Republican Party went along with Trumpism — and the Tea Party and Freedom Caucus. They found it easier.) But the problem may also be related to the fact that, as I found upon calling it up, this piece was written by our own Nikki Haley. Knowing Nikki, I sort of doubt that Latin was her favorite subject in school.

Here’s the lede of the piece:

Where does the Republican Party go from here? The party that abolished slavery, won the right to vote for women, and beat Soviet communism must continue to be strong and principled to move America forward…

Yeah, the GOP was at its founding the anti-slavery party, and for about a generation there all the “woke” people were in that party — Thaddeus Stevens and the rest.

Was enfranchising women a Republican issue? Maybe. (The Fact Checker gave that claim a Geppetto Checkmark!) Not really my period. I should study it more. I do know Republican women like to say that, while you don’t hear it much from the men. I’ll let you figure out why. (Nikki dwells in that little-visited part of the political spectrum where the GOP intersects with the left’s Identity Politics.)

But “beat Soviet communism?” Say what? I was here at the time, and I seem to recall Democrats very much being a part of the liberal consensus that opposed that system most vigorously. Yeah, they got a little ambivalent about that commitment over Vietnam — seeing how our involvement there arose from the zeal of Democrats to contain Leninism. But to so casually wave away the roles of Truman, Kennedy and Johnson in standing up to the Kremlin seems a bit much.

But Nikki tends to grab things on the superficial level, and she grew up in a party in which “Reagan won the Cold War, all by himself” is something not to be questioned. And Nikki doesn’t really go looking for things to question, anyway.

I wanted to stop there, but since I’m posting about the piece, I went ahead and read the rest.

It gets worse.

People feel strongly about Mr. Trump, but we can acknowledge reality. People on the left, if they’re honest, can find Trump accomplishments they like—a coronavirus vaccine in record time, Middle East peace, more accountability from China…..

Did you know we had accomplished Middle East peace? Wow! I didn’t. Did anyone tell the Israelis, or the Palestinians? Is that a fully accepted fact in Gaza? And what’s this bit about “accountability from China?” Does she mean those capricious tariffs? And didn’t Trump do an awesome job on coronavirus? Oh, boy…

But let’s give Nikki some props. The piece has good bits:

If we can’t make judgments beyond whether someone is Republican or Democrat, then America can’t face its biggest challenges. We separate into two camps that always hate each other. We become estranged from family and friends over politics….

Amen, Nikki.

But then she goes back to the nonsense: “Mr. Trump’s legal team failed to prove mass election fraud in court. But election security is still urgently needed.” Really? WHY? What, precisely, is the problem you’re trying to address, beyond voters choosing Democrats? I refer you to the first part of your sentence: Do you have access to evidence Rudy couldn’t find?

Then there’s, “I will gladly defend the bulk of the Trump record and his determination to shake up the corrupt status quo in Washington.” WHAT?!? The guy who openly used his position to advance the fortunes of his businesses, and who kept appointing and elevating and praising and pardoning people who had NO notion of ethics at all? The guy who arrived in the “swamp” and spent four years making it deeper and slimier and adding more alligators? THAT fighter of corruption?

I’ve quoted liberally — someone explain what that word means before Nikki faints — because of the WSJ paywall. But here’s the point, boiled down: Nikki is desperately trying to be the candidate of people who want to see the GOP face up to the horrific mess that was Trump. (Right after that last quote above, she says “I will never defend the indefensible.”)

But she wants to do it while keeping support of the people who will defend the indefensible forever, as long as it was committed by you-know-who. She thinks she’s found a secret formula that will make everybody support her. She thinks she’s being frightfully clever.

This is going to make her sound like she’s babbling nonsense. Because she is. Expect her to continue to do so, as she pursues an absurd ambition…

Our cameras turn to the world of sports…

Remember when I urged you all to vote for Joe, and promised that things would return to a nice, boring normality if he won?

Well, Happy days are here again. These are my favorite things on Twitter so far today:

Oh, and don’t miss the blistering response:

These are the kinds of burning issues I enjoy….

Open Thread for Tuesday, February 16, 2021

sunny

Looking out the window of my home office: Where’s the snow?

Just a normal, quiet day — the kind I was looking forward to when I voted last year. Which is nice. But here’s some stuff to talk about…

  1. What? It’s Mardi Gras already? — So tomorrow’s Ash Wednesday. What to give up? Or maybe I should say, what else should we give up?
  2. Cayce could be among SC’s first cities to designate a COVID-19 Memorial Day — Good idea, Mayor Elise.
  3. So… what did Nikki say again? — Over the weekend, Nikki Haley said of Trump, “We need to acknowledge he let us down.” Um… who was actually counting on him for something? You know what? These politicos who have ambitions far, FAR above their abilities would do better to try speaking to the whole country, not to deluded minorities. OK, I take it back… This is what Republicans who seek to lead should be saying. Instead of kowtowing to the crazies — as those 43 senators did on Saturday, they should be exerting leadership by explaining to the base the many ways it is wrong. And I suppose this gentle, Golly, maybe we were wrong approach is the way to go about it. But it still sounds bizarre…
  4. Bitcoin Trades Above $50,000 for First Time — I don’t even know what that means. I just started subscribing again to The Wall Street Journal, which is leading with this at the moment. I enjoy reading the normal parts of the paper (politics, book reviews, opinion), but the stuff that the paper is historically known for is still unintelligible to me. Those words are nonsensical. So… a Bitcoin costs $50,000? I guess I’ll never buy one. Not that I intended to, anyway. I mean, stories about money bore me to tears, and this isn’t even about real money….
  5. At least 12 dead in 4 states as power outages, record cold strike South — That’s terrible, and I’m not complaining or anything, but why aren’t we getting any of this? Someone ADCO works with in Texas has no power. My wife’s relatives keep posting pictures of iced-over foliage in Memphis, where the snow has fallen repeatedly. And last night, we had a thunderstorm and the temperature went… up to 58. Are we on the same continent?

That’s enough for now. I’m going to go take a walk, since the sun’s shining. Let me know what other topics y’all are seeing….

I got my first vaccine shot, and so far it’s working just fine

This was the third queue, the one just before the shots. We were spaced out by this point.

This was the third queue, the one just before the shots. We were spaced out by this point.

On Friday, I did my duty and got a shot of the vaccine against coronavirus. I’m proud to be able to say that, because I’ve not been able to get flu shots in the past, but this time I did my bit toward producing herd immunity, and getting us past this thing.

Those 43 senators may not have done their duty, but I’ve mine. It’s OK; don’t thank me. I was glad to do it.

As I said, I did it on Friday, and I intended to write about it on Friday; I really did. But I wasn’t up to it. It made me sick. That is, it made me feel sick, and I spent much of the afternoon snoozing on the recliner in my home office. But this, you see, is good news. I read up on it, as I started feeling crappy, and that means the vaccine has produced a strong reaction in my immune system. So if you got the shot, but didn’t feel bad, you have a puny immune system compared to mine. That’s OK; it’s not your fault.

I had been told by some that they didn’t even feel the shot. Oh, I felt it. It wasn’t the most painful shot I’ve ever received — that title goes to the series of typhoid fever inoculations I received in 1962, which made my scrawny little arm feel like it was going to fall off — but I felt it. Especially last night, when no matter what position I got into, it ached just enough to keep me awake. But acetaminophen took care of that.

So, for you greenhorns who haven’t experienced this, here’s what it was like…

First, it was very different from when I took my parents to get their first shots back in January (the get their second ones this week). That was a quiet, peaceful, solitary experience. I took them to get the Moderna vaccine at a Publix I hadn’t realized existed (it’s on Broad River Road) before I made the appointments. If you’d been someone in the store to get groceries that day, you might not have realized the shots were being given there. There was a young woman behind a table just to the left of the entrance. No one else was there, except the person scheduled ahead of us and maybe the person before that, who was still doing the 15-minute wait afterward.

So, even though I was getting the Pfizer instead of Moderna, I figured the experience would be kind of like that. It most assuredly was not. This was closer to lining up for a physical at the recruiting station in the second week of December, 1941. Only most of the people were more… mature… than your usual recruit. And we mostly kept our clothes on, I guess because there were ladies present and all.

The shock came before I even got into the building — Lexington Medical Park 1, to be specific. I was so proud because my appointment was at 11:10, and I’d arrived by 11, meaning I was that rare thing for me, early. But first I had to creep around behind slow people trying to find a parking space, which would have been OK except then I had to stop behind a mass of people waiting outside the building, in the light rain. That was the first of three queues. It was about 39 degrees and wet, as I recall.

We were not, to say the least, six feet apart. We were practically climbing on each others’ backs trying to get under the large canopy over the entrance to escape the rain. But we all had masks on, so there’s that.

This queue — or perhaps I should say, this disorderly mass of people — was for waiting to have one’s temperature checked, and getting a green sticker to attest to it, before entering. The harried young woman in charge kept clicking the thing at several of our foreheads, and then saying, “OK, you five go on in.” Then, when I had been clicked, for some reason she said, “OK, you eight go in.” So we did.

Another lovely young woman (I keep meaning to write a post about this amazing thing I discovered when I was a stroke patient at this very hospital — that pretty much all young women wearing face masks are beautiful, especially if they work in hospitals) had those who had been admitted line up again, around the circular wall of the foyer. Then, since there were too many of us, she had a second, concentric arc form inside the first one, and told the man at the head of ours to follow the last guy in the previous one, once he passed.

At this point we started trying to space out a little. As you’d expect from a bunch of people who were going to this much trouble to get the vaccine.

Then, we got to the entrance of a hallway, and another lovely young woman directed us one at a time to one of several tables set up in that area, leading toward another door at the far end, leading in turn to the enormous room where the shots would be given. At each table was a woman with a computer.

So I went to mine, and gave her my particulars, and she asked me when my appointment was. I said it was supposed to have been at 11:10, as I glanced at my phone to see it was now 11:16. I threw on a sliver of that morally superior, chuff tone you get from people who are habitually early, but not much, because I truly hate that tone.

Speaking of moral superiority, I was still congratulating myself on having filled out the online questionnaire ahead of time when she told me I was done and to go ahead and get in the next line. OK. As I moved down the hall to the next queue, I passed another of the tables, where the worker was asking this other person about allergies, which had not happened with me. Which was weird. There had been several questions about allergies on the questionnaire, and while I was pretty sure that I was OK with this vaccine, at least one of my answers should have been a red flag to at least keep a close eye on this guy: My “yes” to the question of whether I’d ever had a serious allergic reaction to a vaccination.

That was the typhus shot I got when I was about 10 years old and living in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The substance was grown in egg. I have an extreme allergy to eggs. The State Department nurse knew this, but said I had to have a shot because regulations. So she gave me half of a child’s dose, as a compromise. I was headed into anaphylaxis before I got down one floor on the elevator to leave the building. I can’t tell you much about the next few days except it was about the sickest I ever was in my life.

This is why I don’t get flu shots. For some ungodly reason, they make that with egg, too.

But I’d done my research and felt pretty good about this vaccine, and my allergist had given me the “go” sign. But in case I was wrong, I felt like that they should know before they had a freaky situation on their hands. So I thought about that as I stood in the third and final queue — the one in the picture above. And when I sat down to get the shot, and things proceeded apace, and the lady was actually wielding the syringe near my arm, I mentioned it, saying something like, I think I’m OK on this, but so you know, I’m one of those people who has had a severe reaction to an inoculation.

And she said fine, that meant I’d have to wait 30 minutes instead of 15. Which I was fully prepared to do. So at 11:23 she stuck it in, and a modest amount of pain was produced, and I went over to my little isolated chair in the waiting area, and opened my iPad to resume reading the papers. Just before leaving the house, I had started reading a George Will column headlined, “Will Senate Republicans allow their louts to rule the party?” And now I finished it. (We know the answer to that question now, don’t we?)

We were all seated, by the way, in front of a projector screen on which a children’s movie was being projected. You couldn’t really see the picture because of the lighting (see the photo below), or hear any of the dialogue. But at one point I barely heard a song I had heard my grandchildren sing many, many times, and I knew it was “Frozen.” The day before, when my wife had gotten her shot, it had been Disney’s “Alice in Wonderland.” Which, for a crowd of people who are mostly over 65, is also an odd choice. Actually, come to think of it, assuming it makes sense to play a movie for people who will only be there for a few minutes of it is kind of odd, too, but that’s the modern waiting room.

Anyway, a good job was done, mostly, by the hospital, and I appreciate it. I don’t know why there was such a mob, compared to my parents’ experience. Are there that many more people over 65 than over 70? Or has Joe managed to step things up the last few weeks? I don’t know, but the hospital was handling it pretty well.

And we got ‘er done. And today, I felt well enough to tell you about it…

Here's where we all waited after our shots -- most for 15 minutes, me for 30.

Here’s where we all waited after our shots — most for 15 minutes, me for 30.

The Republican Party condemns itself completely

I guess not. Because in that system, we don't say, "He's clearly guilty, so let's let him go."

I guess not. Because in that system, we don’t say, “He’s clearly guilty, so let’s let him go.”

Well, the thing that we knew would happen happened Saturday.

I guess those in charge of the proceedings figured there was no point in dragging it out. Trump’s guilt of an unforgivable act was completely and unquestionably proved. But they knew the Republicans — most of them — were determined to endorse his evil, and would do so no matter how much evidence was presented. For that matter, why was evidence necessary at all? All of them had been there when it happened. And of course, some of them were accomplices.

So that’s that.

A few things to point out, and I’ll leave it with y’all:

  • There’s no question what should happen now: Every one of these people who voted to acquit should resign immediately, admitting their betrayal of the country, and not one of them should ever be allowed to hold an office of public trust in the future. Of course, they won’t resign, and most will run again in the future, and considering the extent of the sickness in the places where they come from, many will be re-elected. So we’ll just have to deal with the insanity, for many years to come. So, for the rest of my life, this country won’t be the one I lived in before 2016. That’s just the way things are.
  • This was it, you see, the big moment for the GOP to redeem itself by putting Trumpism behind it. But instead, 86 percent of Republican senators decided, Hey, let’s do this some more! They have condemned themselves completely, and unforgivably.
  • Oh, wait, do you doubt Trump’s guilt? Then you’re nuts. Listen to the chief of the acquittal crowd, Mitch McConnell: He said the insurrectionists attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 “because they had been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth, because he was angry he lost an election.” He said, “There’s no question — none — that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day… No question about it.” And he voted to acquit anyway. Why? I’d tell you, if I heard anything that remotely sounds like a reason.
  • OK, let’s quote something he did say: “This body is not invited to act as the nation’s overarching moral tribunal.” No, that is exactly what you were “invited” to do. In fact, it’s the least you could have done. It is exactly what duty required of you, when asked whether to condemn the actions of “the most powerful man on Earth,” who was “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day.” Let’s quote what another idiot, Marjorie Taylor Greene, said: “The Trump loyal 75 million are watching.” Absolutely. They were watching as you gave your stamp of approval for all that they have wrought. It was clearly, unquestionably your duty to give them the opposite message.
  • Trump lost the vote by 57 to 43. That means he lost by an even larger percentage than he lost the popular vote. But it was almost a perfect match for the proportion by which he lost the electoral vote. And contrary to what he and his mindless followers believe, he was soundly beaten in the election. Unfortunately, 57 percent is not enough for conviction for impeachment. We could argue about whether it should be or not. But the rules are the rules — although you’ll never persuade the Trump crowd of that.
  • Nancy Pelosi called McConnell et al. “cowards” for not joining the 57 who did what was clearly the right thing. She’s right about some of them. Others are worse than cowards: They’re actually on Trump’s side. If you wanted to know what percentage were cowards, and what percentage were evil, stupid or insane (whichever you think applies best to Trumpism), we’d have to get everyone to forget this vote for a moment, and have an anonymous one — then compare the numbers.
  • What happens now? Well, the good man who is now our president will continue trying to lead the country the best he can — and he’s been doing really well up to now. He’ll have to do it even though millions of Americans are lunatics, and that 43 percent of what was once the “world’s greatest deliberative body” just loudly endorsed their lunacy.

Anyway, that should be enough to get everybody started…

 

More on the problem afflicting many fellow Catholics

America screenshot

Here I am again posting about my other recent obsession (as opposed to the one about what the web is doing to our brains and society): Trying to pull back some fellow Catholics from their recent political (and theological) madness.

Reading frequently on this topic, I realized recently that I’d find a lot of good stuff (such as Jeannie Gaffigan’s great column I wrote about before) in America magazine, the Jesuit publication. So I subscribed. And yesterday they alerted me to this piece, which I thought was good.

It’s headlined, “The same Catholics who condemn ‘relativism’ and a ‘culture of death’ have built a deadly, post-truth world.

True, sadly.

An excerpt that sums up the point:

To speak of the “culture of death” and “dictatorship of relativism” is to invoke a recognizable formula that neatly sums up a particular sense of Catholic countercultural identity that has increasingly allied itself socially and politically with evangelical Protestants and the Republican Party. In this usage, this combined mantra has become a truism at best and a slogan at worst, even beyond its Catholic usage. Worse still, it has become a performative contradiction and scandal that makes a mockery of the Gospel.

In its final days, the Trump administration went on a killing spree, executing federal prisoners at an unprecedented rate; the number of Americans killed by Covid-19 broke 400,000; and five people died in a violent failed insurrection at the Capitol. Add to this the ongoing refugee crisis, the existential threats of climate change, the rise of populist authoritarianism around the world and the struggle against anti-Black racism in America, and it is not hard to see that the culture of death is alive and well.

But those who are most prone to support capital punishment and refuse Covid-19 safety protocols, who explain away and excuse violent insurrection, reject refugees and migrants, and deny the reality of climate change and racial injustice, are precisely the ones who have decried the “culture of death.” The tragedy and the farce of this situation is perhaps only rivaled—or sharpened—by the graphic and horrific images of Blue Lives Matter flags flying in the same place where a Trump-supporting police officer was bludgeoned to death with a fire extinguisher. A culture of death, indeed. Lord have mercy….

It’s worth reading, if you have access (and they allow a certain number of freebies to nonsubscribers).

Oh, by the way, I post these items in the hope that some of my fellow Catholics will see them and engage. The rest of you are certainly welcome to join in — even those of you who use all such posts as another opportunity to express your distaste for us nasty papists. Whatever, knock yourselves out.

But my fellow papists out there — this is mainly for you, so I hope to hear from you…

The engaging uselessness of Pinterest

Pinterest thinks momentary flickers of interest define me.

Pinterest seems quite sure that momentary flickers of interest define me.

I never have time for this, but sometimes when I think I do — standing in line at the store or whatever — I’ll open the Pinterest app on my phone and see what it’s offering me now.

Pinterest is a contender for most useless social medium ever. It’s neck-and-neck with LinkedIn, only more fun.

I remember, years and years ago, when I first signed up for it, spending an hour or so scanning through the images being offered, telling myself I needed to do that in order to make the app “work.” I was letting it build a portrait of me and my interests, based on which images I “pinned,” or simply called up to look at better.

I found it an interesting, idle spectacle. Like watching spots of sunlight filter through the leaves of trees in a light breeze. Or watching whitecaps dance on the sea. Or maybe flames in a fireplace.

Actually, the flames make the best comparison, because you can change the patterns somewhat by poking at the logs. And that’s how Pinterest works.

If there’s a practical use for Pinterest, it escapes me. But I suppose it’s mostly harmless, although the mechanism I see in operation is the same as what has made other social media, and sites such as YouTube, such a threat to our reason and our society. As I’ve written here and here and here.

The algorithm is doing that same thing: Asking me to tell it — by “pinning,” or simply by spending time looking — what interests me. And then it says, “If you like that, you’ll love this.” And shows me more and more of the same thing.

Which can be sort of comical, because it leaps to such odd conclusions. Remember that post I wrote about posters I had on my bedroom walls as a kid? Probably not, since it only got two comments, one of them written by me. But I enjoyed writing it — actually, what I enjoyed more was searching the web for the actual images. And the one I played the biggest was the one of Steve McQueen riding a motorcycle on the set of “The Great Escape.” Which may have been my favorite poster. I know that that was my favorite movie when I was a kid.

Anyway, in searching for it, I must have looked on Pinterest. Anyway, it caused the algorithm to assume that I am obsessed with Steve McQueen, especially when he’s riding a motorcycle. I inadvertently reinforced the McQueen thing by pinning a pic or two from “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” which was a favorite show of mine when it was on, 1958-61.

Ever since then, any time I call up the Pinterest homepage, I’ll see five or 10 or more pics of McQueen in a minute of scrolling, often on a bike. They may go away if the app is momentarily distracted by some other assumed “obsession,” but they always come back eventually.

Hey, I like Steve McQueen. Just not that much.

Actually, though, I’m not seeing him much today. Today, the app thinks I’m crazy about flamenco dancers. That’s because lately I’ve been putting random black-and-white pictures on a wide variety of subjects into my “Images” folder. And taking a quick look at the app this morning, I saw this shot with a little girl in the background framing by a wide skirt being flourished by a dancer. I didn’t even notice what kind of dancer it was; I just liked the composition and sense of motion, and thought my daughter the dance teacher might like it.

So now it just knows I’m nuts about flamenco, and I’m getting flamenco dancers left, right and center — especially if they happen to have on polka-dot dresses. It even thinks I want to see a flamenco guitarist, and close-ups of castanets.

Steve McQueen is gone, for the moment.

I’m also getting a lot of pictures of Ernest Hemingway from his late, white-beard phase. This happened because one of my kids really liked cats, so I had pinned a shot of Hemingway with one of his famous Key West cats. Now he’s all over the place, with or without cats, because of that one picture. A little while ago it showed me one of him with a dog (see image below).

It’s fun to mess with the algorithms head like this, if you assume for a moment that it has a head. It takes practically nothing, the smallest gesture on my part, for it to make huge assumptions about what motivates and animates me. And it’s all so wonderfully superficial, because it’s just pictures — the content is so shallow! There’s virtually no text, and what little there is seems to play little role in the process.

The machine isn’t completely stupid. It’s right, for instance, to believe I like Calvin and Hobbes, and Norman Rockwell. And it has an inkling that it can always grab my attention with the kinds of pinup pictures that adorned the noses of warplanes in WWII. But that’s hardly a personality profile.

I’ve been fretting recently about what artificial intelligence is doing to our politics. But I find a few minutes with Pinterest reassuring. Look where it’s going now!, I tell myself. And for that moment, I’m less concerned about AI’s ability to take over the world. Yet, anyway…

EDITOR’S NOTE: Yeah, I know I wrote about this before, years ago. But thinking recently about what these algorithms were doing to our minds, I started playing with this medium again — just to watch the way it works — so I wrote about it again.

Pinterest 2

I think I can get a cheaper mask than that

bow tie and mask

I guess I ordered a bow tie from this company at some point in the past, way back when I wore ties — back when I went downtown to the office, and stuff like that. You know, when I wore something besides cargo pants and long-sleeved T-shirts.

Anyway, they send me email so seldom that it hasn’t occurred to me to unsubscribe, so I still get emails from them.

And now they’re pushing this.

Thanks but no thanks. I can get a serviceable — and possibly more functional, in medical terms — mask than that, cheaper. I can also get a cheaper tie. I can get a better-looking cheaper tie, if I ever need to buy a tie again.

But I appreciate that you made one evoking Mardi Gras beads and all.

I wonder if anyone is surging through a crowd trying to catch beads (during the parades put on by the early krewes, the ones that do theirs in the weeks before the day)…

I hope not…

Nope. I see they’ve all been cancelled. Good idea…

Thoughts on the impeachment trial?

storm

I find it hard to watch video shot by people who don’t have the sense to turn the phone sideways. You?

Honestly, I haven’t been following it that closely, because I know that no evidence offered, no matter how compelling, is likely to induce enough Republicans to do the right thing.

If they do, I’ll applaud. We’ll finally be fully waked up from the nightmare. Not holding my breath, though. Maybe I should…

But while this process is necessary — Congress has to go through this, in light of the circumstances — I find it depressing to reflect what a firm grip stupidity and shameless evil still have on half the Senate. So I keep it in the background.

That said, what little I’ve read indicates that the Democrats are going about it intelligently, and if the Senate consistently entirely of fair-minded people, conviction would be inevitable. So that’s something.

Beyond that… I just thought I’d put this up for any of y’all who want to comment. Now I’m going to go get some dinner. I’ll check back later…

pence

Minimum wage: Another issue on which I’ve never been able to take a position

There’s a very refreshing Fact Checker piece in the Post today. It’s about whether President Biden (I love typing that) accurately represented the proposal to raise the minimum wage to $15 when he said “the whole economy rises” if we do that.

They gave him two Pinocchios. I love it. Pinocchios

No, I don’t love that my guy said something that earned two Pinocchios. I love that we’re back to checking a president’s accuracy in speaking about a technical matter of policy, rather than wild, hostile lies arising from his own deeply disturbed, evil personal impulses.

It’s refreshing.

As to the issue… this is one of those issues that people get very excited about, on one side or the other, but I’ve never been able to make up my mind about it. That’s because both sides present pretty compelling arguments.

That, by the way, is what the Fact Checker gave Joe the two Pinocchios for — stressing the upside as though it were settled fact, when there is plenty of reason to believe otherwise. In Joe’s defense, there is a large body of studies and arguments from experts that supports what he says. (And that’s what you do when you’ve decided to pursue a course and you’re trying to get people to go along — you cite the evidence for it.) The problem is that there remains a large body that says the opposite. It’s about the conflicting conclusions drawn by different economists.

The Congressional Budget Office does a pretty good job of summing up the dilemma:

On one hand, the CBO estimated that raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 would cost 1.4 million jobs and increase the deficit by $54 billion over 10 years.

But it also estimated the policy would lift 900,000 people out of poverty and raise income for 17 million people — about 1 in 10 workers. Another 10 million who have wages just above that amount could potentially see increases, as well, the CBO reported.

On the one hand, and on the other hand.

It’s a toughie. And I’ve never been able to join enthusiastically with those who take either position: Those who want to lift 900,000 out of poverty, or those who wouldn’t do it because it might put 1,400,000 people out of work completely.

So I don’t know.

You?

 

Open Thread for Thursday, February 4, 2021

Captain Tom

I don’t have time for it today, but dang it, I’m going to post something. And even though it seems my readers are only interested in arguing over whether schools completely reopen or D.C. becomes a state, I’m bringing up other stuff. Here you go:

  1. We lose Captain Tom — He made it through the Burma campaign in WWII, but this hero of the current global struggle against a deadly threat fell in battle this week. God Bless and keep you, Captain Tom.
  2. The Attention Economy — This is a different way of grabbing ahold of the problem I’ve been writing about lately, having to do with the way the internet has done nasty things to our brains for which evolution had not prepared us. It’s about Michael Goldhaber, who in the ’80s predicted “the complete dominance of the internet, increased shamelessness in politics, terrorists co-opting social media, the rise of reality television, personal websites, oversharing, personal essay, fandoms and online influencer culture — along with the near destruction of our ability to focus….” And other stuff.
  3. We don’t have enough Walmarts now — This may seem unlikely to you, but I assure you it is a problem now. Remember how, a month ago, they announced the one on Bush River would close (as of tomorrow)? Well, this has messed with my life. That was my Walmart, the one closest to me. And now the next closest one is already overcrowded. I think I’ve been to it four times  since the announcement of the closing (assuming the one they were closing would be even more poorly stocked than usual — which, by the way, is why I suspect it has been less successful), and on two of those occasions, back to back, they were completely out of shopping carts. I did not need this new hassle. I don’t like having to go out for supplies to start with, and now this…
  4. THEN WHY DID YOU VOTE FOR HER? — Sorry about the shouting. I’m just reacting to this NYT story that tells us of the discomfiture of people who voted for Marjorie Taylor Greene. We are told that “Now the revelation of past social media posts has unsettled some who backed her.” Really? REALLY? Sorry. I’m shouting again… Here’s the thing: Even after all these decades of closely following politics, I continue to be amazed and appalled by people who vote for candidates about whom they know basically nothing. It’s one of the greatest flaws in our system, and it keeps getting worse instead of better. By the way, I didn’t finish reading the whole piece. It quotes Real People at some length, you see, and stories that go on like that tend to depress me.
  5. So I guess I’m going to have to deal with this now — SC is now going to let people over 65 get the COVID vaccine. I’m still not through deal with this with my parents — they get their second shots on the 17th — and now you say I’ve got to go through it all again? Never mind the fact that I’ve never really gotten what you’d call 100 percent assurance that I’m not allergic to it. But I suppose I need to get started… although I have no idea how or where…
  6. Frank Bruni makes me almost interested in the Super Bowl — I’ve come to really enjoy Frank Bruni’s columns over the last year or so. So when he wrote something about the Super Bowl — which, as I understand, is coming up soon — I decided to read it anyway. And something surprising happened: He made me slightly interested in his wish that this person named Tom Brady should win. That’s remarkable, Frank, and I congratulate you.

Mr. President, here’s what makes the ‘uncivil war’ so vicious

Guillaume

I wish my headline said, “Here’s how to end the uncivil war, Mr. President.” But I can’t say that, because I don’t know how to undo the damage.

But finally, after more than four years of bewilderment, I finally feel like I have a grip on what has caused the problem, and I’m not letting go. If I keep saying “Here it is!” enough, maybe someone else will see what to do about it, even if I don’t.

I’ve written about this in two posts now, here and here. In the second one, I mentioned having watched part of the documentary “The Social Dilemma,” and indicated I might say more about it when I’d seen it all. I finished watching it about a week ago, and yes, it certainly reinforced the epiphany I’ve been writing about. But I got distracted doing other things, and didn’t get to it.

Today (yesterday now, since I didn’t finish the post until Saturday), I’m reminded of the urgency by a several things I’ve read — items that point to the continued rapid descent of most of the country’s Republicans into madness. There’s the case of that deranged woman from Georgia, and the House GOP’s deep reluctance to deal with her. (The Republican leader is too busy running down to Florida to beg forgiveness of his master.) There are stories about polls, showing how most of that party’s adherents are still shockingly lost in their delusions. There was a Frank Bruni piece about how Marco Rubio — and anyone else with designs on the GOP nomination in 2024 — has utterly degraded himself in the pursuit of the support of his party’s conspiracy wing. And more.

How did close to half the country lose its grip on reality? Well, that’s what I’ve been talking about in those previous posts, and return to today.

There’s a great moment near the start of “The Social Dilemma” when several tech industry veterans who are deeply concerned about what’s going on are asked to answer the question, “What’s the problem?”… and each of these otherwise articulate people stops, and stares vacantly, and for a long moment, fails to come up with an answer.

It made me feel better, because these were expert people who were here to talk about it, and had trouble explaining what the problem was.

As I said in my first post on this subject, I’ve been familiar with the problems for years, and felt stupid speaking of an “epiphany” when the basic facts were so obvious:

I’ve commented on this before. Everyone has. And I was conscious of the cause of the problem. But recently, I came to realize it, to understand it, to grok it, more fully. And it was as though I hadn’t thought about these things before.

It happened first when I listened to a podcast series from several months ago, called “Rabbit Hole.” If you haven’t listened to it, I wish you would…

That podcast helped the points sink in, to where it suddenly hit me that this was the explanation of Trumpism, specifically the explanation of how such a large portion of the country — close to half — had completely lost connection with reality, becoming immune to evidence to an extent far beyond old cliches about “confirmation bias” and such.

It was happening because they inhabited separate realities, which seemed as real to them as any other. And they were prepared to go to pretty much any lengths to defend their delusions, as we saw demonstrated so dramatically on Jan. 6, and in the willingness of so many to ignore the implications of those events. (By the way, these processes don’t just distort the perceptions of Trump supporters. It’s just that with Trump, you had a figure emerge who reinforced the tendencies of Qanon believers, white supremacists, and other whackos by repeatedly telling them it was all true, and that it was not only OK, but virtuous to embraces such insanity. This unprecedented situation caused that particular, easily deluded, segment of the population to go completely off the rails.)

Those experts momentarily lost the ability to address the Problem because it has so many aspects, all interacting with each other. But to simplify, these two factors are generally at the core:

  1. First, the fact that so many people now get all of their information that explains politics and the world to them from, shall we say, “nontraditional sources.” At the same time, part of what those sources have brainwashed them to believe is that the “traditional sources” — ones that operate according to procedures and ethics that require that facts actually check out before being reported — are “fake news,” and not to be trusted. Yes, this is very obvious, and doesn’t really explain things until you get to the second point…
  2. The way the Web works when it is successful. Success depends on keeping your attention, so that attention can be sold to advertisers. Which is the way newspapers, television, radio and other media monetized themselves — except that the Web is astonishingly better at it. And there’s one aspect of the algorithms that make them succeed more than anything: The simple matter of showing you what you like (or tell you what you want to hear), and then showing you more of it, to the point that you never get to anything else.

Ultimately, you end up living in a completely different reality from others whose predilections, in concert with the algorithms, have herded them into their own, distinct — and often diametrically opposed — universes. (Again, this works on MSNBC watchers as well as on the Fox people. But Rachel Maddow isn’t working in tandem with a POTUS who does not give a damn what the truth is. So things don’t get nearly as crazy. But it does mean that as Trump’s base gets crazier, people on the left move farther and farther away from them, and the Trump base sees that disdain, and gets crazier.)

Eventually, the deliberative processes that are essential to our system of representative democracy break down. Representatives who know their constituencies have no points of agreement on facts with people who live in other constituencies cast aside evidence and make themselves immune to persuasion, lest they lose their seats. Debate in legislative bodies is pointless, because it’s not about trying to achieve productive synthesis with the views of members on the other side of the aisle; it’s simply about proving one’s purity in adhering to the “reality” in which most of one’s constituents live.

Back to the movie…

“The Social Dilemma” has a lot of flaws, the most obvious of them being dramatization. When it sticks to tech gurus talking about the problem, it’s great. When it uses actors to act out the problems, it gets kind of cheesy. Perhaps that keeps more people watching (hey, just like YouTube!) but it almost made me turn it off a number of times.

The dramatizations try to capitalize on parents’ concerns about their children’s Web addiction — a very serious problem that all parents should worry about, but not the reason I’m watching. There’s this fictional family of actors, and you watch one teenaged boy who starts out fairly rational gradually get seduced into extreme views, to the exclusion of everything else in his life.

Perhaps the cheesiest thing — but I understand that someone thought this would help us understand better the way the algorithms work — are these fantasy sequences in which you see the algorithms personified. This one actor appears as three different parts of the online code, and his three “characters” have conversations with each other about how they are manipulating the teenager, as they gradually assemble a more and more complete model of the kid as he spends more time online. These scenes are exceedingly creepy — and meant to be — and I finally figured out one reason why. The actor personifying the algorithm is the one who played “Pete” on “Mad Men.” Creepy is what this guy does. (You kind of wonder what happened to him along the way to give him a face like that.)

But eventually the film confronts the issues that interest me, the ones I’ve written about in those preceding posts. This initially happens when, out of the blue, the person being interviewed is Guillaume Chaslot (pictured above), the Frenchman who helped develop YouTube’s “recommendation” software — before he realized with horror what it was doing.

I recognized him when he used the phrase “rabbit hole” — because his was one of the more important voices heard in the podcast series of that name. In the podcast, it was described how two developments on YouTube led to the creation of conditions that lead people to become committed conspiracy adherents — first, the moment when YouTube started allowing long videos, entire talk shows and such, to be posted. Then, the development of the current “recommendation” system, which essentially says, “You liked that? You’ll love this,” which so easily pulls people deeper into the hole as they watch one whack job’s video, then another more extreme one, then one more extreme than that, and on and on…

Mind you, the experts — the elements of the film I prefer — all insist that there are no bad guys (although the environment thus created is a welcome mat to bad guys, such as Vladimir Putin, to step in and use it). The aims of the people making these separate realities possible are fairly innocuous. As one of the main talking heads explains, as we’re watching the creepy Petes manipulate the kid:

At a lot of these technology companies, there’s three main goals.

There’s the engagement goal: to drive up your usage, to keep you scrolling.

There’s the growth goal: to keep you coming back and inviting as many friends and getting them to invite more friends.

And then there’s the advertising goal: to make sure that, as all that’s happening, we’re making as much money as possible from advertising….

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with that, I can tell you as an old newspaperman (at least, that’s what the people on the business side kept telling me — and of course I noticed that when they stopped making money, everything that was important to me disappeared. Which was bad…). But when Web-based businesses do the same thing, we start seeing processes that humanity has never seen before, and which evolution has not equipped us to handle.

Anyway, I urge you to watch this film as well. Because I think it’s important in the extreme for all of us to understand how people come to accept the most unlikely-seeming propositions, and cling to them with religious fervor — fiercely resisting any attempt to argue them back to reason.

Because it’s tearing us apart.

There are plenty of other ways in which these problems — or at least bits and pieces of them — are being examined. I was listening to a podcast yesterday in which a New York Times reporter who watched Qanon chats happening during the Inauguration on Jan. 20, with the true believers assuring each other that at any second, Trump would declare martial law and stop the “steal.” Did they wake up when it didn’t happen? Some did. Others told themselves they had simply misinterpreted Q’s prophesies. It’s an interesting examination of effects, if not causes.

Or the piece I read in the NYT this morning headlined “The Coup We Are Not Talking About.” The writer approaches the same problems from a different direction, that of the development of “surveillance capitalism.” I think it’s the wrong direction, but perhaps it’s because some of the connections he makes are unconvincing. But maybe he made a better case in his book on the same subject. Anyway, he touches on the problems I’m on about, although in the service of his thesis:

The third stage, which we are living through now, introduces epistemic chaos caused by the profit-driven algorithmic amplification, dissemination and microtargeting of corrupt information, much of it produced by coordinated schemes of disinformation. Its effects are felt in the real world, where they splinter shared reality, poison social discourse, paralyze democratic politics and sometimes instigate violence and death.

Yeah, he uses the word “epistemic” a lot. And in other ways, he fails to express himself with simple clarity. Kind of made me more sympathetic to the cheesy dramatizations of “The Social Dilemma.” At least they were trying to reach people outside of academia.

But hey, if it leads you to understand it better, try that approach. Because we all need to come to understand it.

And do something about it. Again, I don’t know what to do, what with the toothpaste being fully out of the tube and everyone slathering themselves with it (kind of overdid that metaphor, didn’t I?). But I figure we need a diagnosis before someone comes up with the cure.

By the way, to head off certain obvious objections… before someone cries, “you’re acting like things were fine before this,” allow me to point out the obvious fact that I am not. As I have documented over and over in recent decades, things have been getting nasty in our politics for some time. There have been a number of milestones of our division into tribes that despise each other, and won’t listen to each other, thereby making the function of a deliberative form of government increasingly impossible. You could point to the emergence of negative campaigning in 1982 (which helped to produce the likes of Lee Atwater and his acolyte Karl Rove), or the moment in late 1992 when I first saw a new “Don’t Blame Me; I Voted Republican” sticker on a car before Bill Clinton was even inaugurated. Or Democratic lunacy over Clinton’s impeachment, leading them to defend the indefensible — or, two years later, their claims (very civil, nonviolent and short-lived claims, as opposed to what we’ve seen in recent days) in 2000 that the election was “stolen.” Or for that matter, BDS. Or the rise of the Tea Party or the Freedom Caucus, and the maniacal determination to stop anything Barack Obama tried to do — or, failing that, to undo it. (Remember the bizarre spectacle of all those utterly vain votes to “repeal Obamacare?”)

All before Trump. But not all before this phenomenon that I’m talking about, which certainly played a role in the things we saw in the earlier part of this past decade. In any case, this new problem, or set of problems, landed in a nasty partisan environment, and then exponentially accelerated the sickness, with a twist.

I could say a lot more, but at well over 2,000 words, I’d better stop….

creepy Pete

Creepy Pete in triplicate, manipulating the kid.

 

Bruni on the one word for Biden so far: ‘generous’

Bruni

Just a little something to feel good about…

I enjoyed Frank Bruni’s e-newsletter this week, particularly since I hadn’t seen one lately — he’d been away writing a book or some such. I hope he won’t mind if I quote from it fairly extensively. The email was headlined, “The one word that defines Biden’s presidency so far.”

An excerpt:

How good it feels to write that! President Joe Biden. We needed a change, and now we have it, and the rightness of this particular one was captured not just in his excellent inauguration speech but also in other words and gestures of his in the hours just before and after that address.

I’ll focus on three unscripted sentences shortly after 5 p.m., when a small group of journalists were on hand for his signing of several executive orders in the Oval Office. One of them asked about the content of a letter that President Donald Trump — who actually followed tradition in this instance — left Biden. There’d been doubt that Trump would do so.

“The president wrote a very generous letter,” Biden said. “Because it was private, I will not talk about it until I talk to him. But it was generous.”

Generous. The word grabbed me, and not because Biden used it twice.

For starters, “generous” perfectly describes Biden’s response to the question he was asked.

He could simply have declined to characterize the letter, citing etiquette and discretion. He certainly wasn’t under any obligation to compliment and essentially thank Trump, not after Trump refused to accept the legitimacy of Biden’s election, spread conspiracy theories and fomented violence. Trump was intent on making Biden’s transition into the presidency as rocky as possible and bequeathing him a country almost impossible to govern.

Biden nonetheless went out of his way to be big. To be kind. He placed Trump, of all people, in proximity to “generous,” when our former president (it feels good to write that phrase, too!) is anything but.

Ever since Election Day, Biden hasn’t merely been urging civility. He’s been modeling it, despite a magnitude of ugliness and absurdity from Trump and his Republican enablers that has tested it at every turn. It’s a monumental feat of discipline. It’s the epitome of grace.

And it’s the definition of, well, generosity, which is as good a one-word summary of what America and Americans need right now as any other. We need it from our president. We need it from other political leaders. We need it most of all from ourselves….

It’s small things like that that, if we pay attention, can remind us of how blessed were are in this country now.

Others can talk about policies or programs or whatever interests them. For me, this sort of thing is why I wanted Joe Biden to be our president. Because we really, really need this…

Why do we keep talking about January 6th?

Just don't forget for a moment how he created this situation.

Just don’t forget for a moment how he CREATED this situation….

Yes, I know that sounds like a stupid question, but hear me out.

I keep hearing people talk about Donald John Trump’s culpability — which no rational person can challenge — for what happened that day. I hear clips of what he said. Got it. No question that he incited them to act, on that day.

But what happened that day — his actual appearance before them at that rally — was just the cherry on top.

Why don’t people talk more (and they do some, but not enough) about what he’d been doing every day for more than two months before that? The crime for which he should be convicted by the Senate should be spending all those weeks creating the mob that he was speaking to on Jan. 6 — assembling it, bringing it into being.

If not for that, those people would not have been in Washington on Jan. 6, filled with insane and treasonous delusions, to begin with.

And I’m not hearing enough about that.

If the President of the United States — and that’s what he was at the time, to our nation’s everlasting shame — had not claimed, day after day, that the election had been stolen from him, a complete and obvious lie which he was unable to support with any evidence, that “Stop the Steal” movement would not have existed. Those astoundingly gullible people would all have been far away, in their homes. There would have been no one to stir up and egg on to attack the Capitol.

Of course, in a way, I’m doing what those who make the mistake of concentrating on Jan. 6 do — I’m leaving out a huge chunk of the evidence. I’m not even getting into those months before the election when he was preparing the way for his treasonous lie — telling all those people, over and over, that the vote could not be trusted.

Leave out what happened on Jan. 6, and there is already no question that he is guilty of what the House has impeached him for doing. No honest senator could possibly do anything but vote to convict.

Of course, you can say the same about what he did on the 6th alone. But don’t leave the rest of it out. Consider all the evil he has done — not only grabbing control of the situation for his nefarious ends in the moment, but having created the situation to begin with…

1st Open Thread of the Restoration, Friday, January 22, 2021

Hank_Aaron_1974

So here we go:

  1. Over bourbon, former SC senators launch new political podcast — Hey, that’s great news, Joel and Vincent! Y’all know, don’t you, that I held the record for most times as a guest on Pub Politics, right? But when you have me on, could we make it dark rum instead? I’ve got a great recipe. Bryan helped me name it. It’s called a “Hugo.” It’s like a Dark and Stormy, except you use Blenheim Ginger Ale instead of boring ginger beer. Because South Carolina. Way better than that Kentucky stuff.
  2. Senate confirms Austin as first Black defense secretary — No, actually, if you check, the Senate confirmed him as defense secretary, not “black defense secretary.” The white guys will report to him, too. Anyway, bottom line, this is good news. I’m looking forward to hearing similar news about Anthony Blinken. Things are taking shape.
  3. Hank Aaron, Baseball’s Legendary Slugger, Dies At 86 — Even on a good week, we have sad news. 715, Hank!
  4. Coronavirus: UK variant ‘may be more deadly’ — This is from the Beeb, and we didn’t really need our friends across the pond to tell us this.
  5. Impeachment Article Against Trump to Be Delivered to Senate Monday — No, no, no, WSJ! We’re going to avoid using that name in headlines this year, OK? Banks are avoiding doing business with him; you can avoid using the name, OK?
  6. Columbia lawyer to represent You-Know-Who at impeachment trial — Oh, come on, Butch! Must you? Can’t you leave it to Giuliani or somebody like that?