Category Archives: In Our Time

Yo, this is the news we GOT, so quit yer bellyachin’…

Increasingly, folks from various walks of life — but particularly those in various areas of media and communications — feel a need to apologize or at least commiserate with their audiences, to do what they can to soften the pain of living in the post-Nov. 8 world.

So a certain tone has crept into the unlikeliest places. Check this, from an email message seeking entries for a photographic retrospective on 2016:

american-photography

Basically, We acknowledge your trauma (your “trepidation and uncertainty”), but do us a favor and see it you can pull it together long enough to send us some content, however unpleasant the subject matter

But that wasn’t nearly as blunt or to the point as an ad I got on my iPad recently, promoting a Reuters TV app. See below. (Hey, we know this news sucks, but it’s what we got. We wish he had better but we don’t, so quit yer bellyachin’, sit still and watch it…)

Hey, folks, don’t worry. Donald Trump is a really smart guy, and is already telling our intelligence experts things they were clueless about… oh, wait — that wasn’t actual news. That was The Onion

reuters

What am I, if I’m not a reader of books?

A few of the books I have either bought for myself, or received as gifts (most of those being ones I ASKED for), but have not finished reading.

A few of the books I have either bought for myself, or received as gifts (most of those being ones I ASKED for), but have not finished reading.

Back when we were first married, my wife gave me a coffee mug that I deeply appreciated, to the extent that I never drank out of it, wanting to preserve it. It had a picture on it of a young boy sitting with his back against a tree and his nose in a book, with the caption, “The sky above and a book to love.”

That really described me as a kid, which I was touched by because she hadn’t known me then — she could just tell. That’s who I was.

But lately… I feel like I’m less myself.

Recently, I Tweeted out (with unintentional irony) an essay in the WSJ about how we all need badly to turn back to reading books:

We need to read and to be readers now more than ever.

We overschedule our days and complain constantly about being too busy. We shop endlessly for stuff we don’t need and then feel oppressed by the clutter that surrounds us. We rarely sleep well or enough. We compare our bodies to the artificial ones we see in magazines and our lives to the exaggerated ones we see on television. We watch cooking shows and then eat fast food. We worry ourselves sick and join gyms we don’t visit. We keep up with hundreds of acquaintances but rarely see our best friends. We bombard ourselves with video clips and emails and instant messages. We even interrupt our interruptions….

Books are uniquely suited to helping us change our relationship to the rhythms and habits of daily life in this world of endless connectivity. We can’t interrupt books; we can only interrupt ourselves while reading them. They are the expression of an individual or a group of individuals, not of a hive mind or collective consciousness. They speak to us, thoughtfully, one at a time. They demand our attention. And they demand that we briefly put aside our own beliefs and prejudices and listen to someone else’s. You can rant against a book, scribble in the margin or even chuck it out the window. Still, you won’t change the words on the page….

This brought to the fore one of the many perpetual guilt trips I live with: All the wonderful books I already possess — as a result of telling people I wanted them as gifts, and my loved ones acting upon that stated desire — and have not read.

Recently, I confessed that I still hadn’t read Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow — although I’d had it ever since Fritz Hollings insisted I must read it 12 years ago, and I put it on my wish list and received it soon after, and put it on the shelf.

Well, I’ve started it now, and have been reading it for several weeks, and it has all the ingredients of the kind of book I love — I keep stopping to read aloud good bits to my wife — and I’m all the way up to… Chapter 5. Hamilton has just joined Washington’s staff in the midst of the revolution.

Obviously, as fascinating as it is, I can put it down.

Awhile back — more than 18 months ago, I see — I confessed to y’all that while the First World War is one of those areas I really, really feel that I should learn more about, and I had started on it several months earlier and written about how awesome it was (especially that first chapter, which sets the scene), I still hadn’t finished The Guns of August.

Well, I still haven’t. I bogged down somewhere around the time that it shifted to the Eastern front (although I read enough of that to conclude that Tsar Nicholas’ government was too incompetent to run a lemonade stand, much less such a vast country).

When I mentioned that and several other things I needed to read more about at the time, some of y’all very kindly suggested some books to check out. And I was grateful, but at the back of my mind was this awful, nagging doubt that I’ll have the discipline to get around to reading them. The shelves of unread books that I really, really wanted and already possessed groaned with the combined weight of the books themselves… and my guilt.

And I was right. I still haven’t read them.

Sitting around my house and on my iPad, begun but not finished, are the Hamilton book and The Guns of August; The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of M16 — Life and Death In the British Secret Service, by Gordon Corera; The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914, by David McCullough; The War for All the Oceans: From Nelson at the Nile to Napoleon at Waterloo, by Roy Adkins; Trotsky: Downfall Of A Revolutionary, by Bertrand M. Patenaude; A Tale of Two Cities; The Grapes of Wrath; and Moby Dick. That’s just off the top of my head. I’m sure there are more.

All of them, with the possible exception of the Trotsky book (I’ve officially given up on that one), started with great promise.

It’s not that I don’t read. I read — or at least skim and dig into the stories that interest me — at least three newspapers a day, plus all the many items that social media draw me to. I suspect I read more news and commentary each day than at any time during my long newspaper career — because so much is immediately available.

And it’s not that I don’t read books. I obsessively reread Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels, and occasionally some of my favorites by Nick Hornby, John le Carre (his early stuff, from The Night Manager back), Martin Cruz Smith and, yes, Tom Clancy. I can pass a pleasant moment with them and put them down, because I know that happens next. Ditto with faddish stuff from my youth, such as Dune and Stranger in a Strange Land.

And I occasionally finish a new book, the most recent being, let’s see… Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge, by Anthony Beevor. Months and months ago, I now realize.

Why can’t I seem to commit to a new book, and see it through? I suspect it’s because of a number of factors, starting with all that time spent with ephemeral stuff via iPad.

It’s other things, too. I’ve gotten so obsessed with genealogy that I actually spend huge amounts of time on the weekends building my family tree. Several months ago, I had fewer than 1,000 people on it, now I’ve more than 2,600. And just this weekend, I’ve made some surprising discoveries: For instance, one of my apparent ancestors — who rebelled against King John and was declared an outlaw — may have been one of the inspirations for the Robin Hood legend. Really. So I find it hard to tear myself away from that stuff. I’ve learned a lot about dim corners of history I did not know before, just reading context on ancestors. But that reading, so far, has seldom gone deeper than Wikipedia.

The most humiliating reason of all is that, well, there is so much compelling television these days, sucking up my leisure hours. That is something I thought I would never write, especially as a reason for neglecting books, my lifelong love. But while broadcast television (with the exception of ETV and PBS) is a more wasteful wasteland than ever (with some exceptions — I enjoy “Bluebloods,” and don’t forget “The West Wing” was on broadcast), Netflix and Amazon Prime have almost enough offerings to occupy my evenings completely. And I just can’t seem to get around to canceling HBO NOW, despite my best intentions.

Still, I’m almost sure I watch less than most people. Nielsen reported a few months ago that the average adult American consumes media — using tablets, smartphones, personal computers, multimedia devices, video games, radios, DVDs, DVRs and TVs — a total of 10 hours and 39 minutes each day.

Read that figure again, and think about it. It’s not a typo.

This is embarrassing. It’s actually worse than that. It’s an identity crisis. Who AM I, if I’m not reading books? Maybe the Internet has retrained my brain, making it less patient. For whatever reason, an occasional long-form magazine piece, in The New Yorker or some similar venue, is about as long as I go. And most of what I read is no longer than a newspaper column.

I don’t know what’s happened to me. But it’s disorienting. And I need to do something about it…

Some of the books I've lazily read and reread over the years, rather than read something new.

Some of the books I’ve lazily read and reread over the years, rather than read something new.

Enough with the materialism orgy, already!

materialism-orgy

Maybe it’s envy. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have money to buy expensive gifts. Or maybe it’s that I wouldn’t buy these kinds of gifts even if I could. I’d give people something more practical. Or burn the money.

But it seems to me that each Christmas, the materialism orgy gets several degrees more offensive.

Get a load of the guy in the screengrab above. Excuse my imagery, but he looks for all the world like he’s about to have an orgasm from sticking his nose into a wineglass.

This is from a pop-up video act that forced itself upon me when I tried to read a story on the New York Times website. The video went on and on like this, in slow motion. With “Ode to Joy” as the background music, just in case the images didn’t lay it on thick enough. It all just seemed to embody perfectly everything that bugs me about the ads for jewelry and perfume and watches that cost more than my house (and what’s more pointlessly ostentatious than an expensive watch, in an age when we all carry phones that keep perfect time?) with which we are inundated this time of year.

Part of this is that I’m kind of jaded about foodie stuff. (And may that’s because I have such a limited diet, and tend to think good food is anything I can use for fuel that won’t kill me.) People make WAY too big a deal over how good a bite of food or a sip of a drink — or in this case, the smell of a drink — can be. Face it — if there’s a cake recipe that you think is better than sex, you’ve got a problem.

But there’s much, much more than that going on here. A lot of effort was put into making this guy look posh, upper-class, refined, better than you, and something to aspire to — if only you can afford and appreciate this product, you, too will be a superior being. It’s so extreme, it’s laughable. Like a Thurston Howell caricature of wealth and snobbery, only with better production values. The makers of the ad were going for the same effect I was going for in my own cheesy way with this selfie, except they weren’t kidding.

This is actually expected to appeal to… somebody. Donald Trump, maybe. He probably thinks it’s classy.

This holiday started with celebrating a poor child born in a stable. And now this.

Do y’all know what I’m saying here? If so, what’s the materialism-deifying ad you hate the most? Share, so we can heap scorn upon it.

Adsense ‘comments’ on Clinton endorsement

As y’all have no doubt noticed, aside from the local ads I have in the rail at right — and as you see, I’ve recently added several from candidates running in next week’s election — Google inserts ads here and there on the blog, based on what it has gleaned about the individual reader’s interests.

Some of items Adsense offers can be a bit startling, and the juxtapositions with content odd.

Burl Burlingame sent me this screenshot via text this week:

img_1198

There are just… so many levels on which to perceive that, most of them quite low. Looks to me like they’ve just noticed something is missing.

I asked Burl what kind of searches he had been doing lately. He insisted:

Not steroids! Or bellies!

Anyway, I always appreciate y’all sharing these occasionally odd apparitions…

My DNA is being subjected to a really ‘snazzy test’!

ancestry

Ever since I sent my spit off to Ancestry, I’ve been like a little kid who has sent in his cereal box tops, waiting for my secret decoder ring.

And the time frame involved is reminiscent of the days when I was a little kid — they say it can take 6-8 weeks for delivery!

For their part, Ancestry is making sure I know they haven’t forgotten me, or lost my DNA. I got an email from them today giving me a link to a page letting me track the process. Apparently, they’re working on it now. Surprisingly, this is something that actually takes time. I had figured it would be like when they test my iron level before I give platelets at the Red Cross — zip, and you’re done.

Nope. It’s way more complicated, tracking hundreds of thousands of… what do they call them?… single nucleotide polymorphisms. To put it in technical terms, the lady on this video says my DNA is being subjected to a “pretty complicated and really snazzy test.”

So now I understand.

Anyway, I can hardly wait…

A little Ragnar to balance out Adaline: That’s fair, right?

I didn’t watch “The Age of Adaline,” but since the Amazon Prime account is in my name (it was a Christmas gift), Jeff Bezos et al. asked me to rate it.51jk64xwsjl-_ss300_

So I asked my wife, and she suggested 4 stars. I considered protesting — you’re sure that’s not overly generous? In my book, 4 stars is semi-awesome, like “Vertigo” or “Conan the Barbarian” or “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (the movie version — the Alec Guinness TV version is 5 stars).

After all, I only gave the first season of “Vikingsthree stars.

I don’t really know anything about “The Age of Adaline,” but the image with it scares me a bit. Starry-eyed young woman in extreme closeup with handsome young man with neatly trimmed beard? It’s got Hallmark-channel romance written all over it. Even with the sci-fi premise, do I want Amazon throwing a whole lot of these at me?51yatcl-w3l-_ss300_

But I want my wife to find movies she wants to see, too — I’m not a selfish monster, or at least not that much of a selfish monster — so I went ahead and gave it 4 stars.

Then, I went back and upgraded “Vikings” to 4 stars, too. Just to balance things out, make sure Amazon suggests stuff I like as well. “Vikings” has young men with beards, too, but the beards are wild and weird and blood-encrusted and tied into bunches for scaring those wimpy Saxons. Proper beards.

So more Ages of Adalines will come our way, but there will be leavening — with battleaxes!

Cruz lost the nomination, but he’s running against Hillary anyway

You know, it would be hard to explain to an intelligent alien why Ted Cruz — who decidedly lost his bid to oppose Hillary Clinton this fall — is sending out email appeals that are essentially aimed at getting voters to join him in … opposing Hillary Clinton.

Yeah, we know that politicians are always raising money, and their preferred way to do that is to generate rage in their base, and the best way to do that if you dwell on the right fringe is to mention Hillary or Obamacare… but there’s no way to explain all that to a neutral, rational observer who hasn’t live with it for decades.

Anyway, this came into my In box six days ago, and I’m just now looking at it:

Cruz For
Senate
Brad,

While the Clinton campaign and the Obama Administration may have wanted to bury the revelations from Hillary Clinton’s FBI interview over the holiday weekend, the story is even worse than any of us could have imagined.

Back during the presidential campaign, our team released a parody video about the lengths Hillary Clinton would go to hide her corruption and reckless handling of classified information. Little did we know at the time, how true this reenactment would turn out to be.

SIGN THE PETITION —–> STAND AGAINST HILLARY!

We wanted to share a recent headline with you from The Right Scoop:

REMINDER: This is how RIGHT Ted Cruz was about Hillary Clinton

What Senator Cruz said then and continues to believe now is that Hillary Clinton plays by a different set of rules than you or me, and she knows it.

< —– WATCH —–>

Even a CNN anchor reporting on the story could not hide her stunned reaction to the confirmation that Hillary Clinton aides destroyed Clinton’s old mobile phones by breaking them in half or hitting them with a hammer.

Unfortunately for you and me, Hillary knows it’s “Good to be a Clinton”, which is why we must all stand together against this shameful double standard and for the rule of law — equally applied to everyone!

SIGN THE PETITION —–> STAND AGAINST HILLARY!

For liberty,

Team Cruz

P.S. – Despite the FBI calling her “extremely careless” Hillary Clinton has faced no consequences for mishandling classified information; please sign the petition today to send a message that the American people STAND AGAINST HILLARY!

Of course, there was a green DONATE button at the bottom.

Note that there’s no indication of how Ted plans to “stand against Hillary” with our help. There’s no indication of where this “petition” is headed, or what it is intended to accomplish, exactly — or even vaguely, for that matter.

It’s just about OPPOSING. And there you have American politics in the 21st century in a nutshell.

And no, there’s nothing remarkable or newsworthy about this email. I just think it’s important to stop now and then and note how absurd the routine has become…

No vertical video! Not now, not ever! It’s WRONG!

Ride of the Valkyrie. Think how disappointing 'Apocalypse Now' would have been if Coppola had shown just one Huey.

Ride of the Valkyrie: Think how disappointing ‘Apocalypse Now’ would have been if Coppola had shown just one Huey.

It’s bad enough that amateurs are providing video content to news organizations shot with their stupid smartphones in a vertical position — thereby causing us to miss most of what is going on, and having to look at those irritating black bars where we should be seeing something that provides us with additional perspective.

Now, we have professionals telling them not only that it’s OK to do that, but it’s the right way!

And their only excuse for doing that seems to be, Everybody’s screwing up this way, so let’s just say that’s the way to do it.

Here’s the latest apologia for shooting video the wrong way, from The Wall Street Journal:

It’s more comfortable to read things when the phone is standing up. Smartphones and their software were designed to fit in our hands. So why do we turn our phones to shoot and watch video? We shouldn’t. Those of us who used to scream, “You’re holding it wrong!”—we were really the ones who were wrong.

No, we were the ones who were right. We still are. We always will be. And everything you say, every example you provide, convinces me more of that.

The WSJ piece goes on:

Mobile video is exploding. Fifty-five percent of the world’s mobile traffic is now video, according to Cisco. And U.S. adults now spend 29 minutes a day watching video on their mobile devices, says eMarketer…

Yep, I’m one of those people. Although when I do watch video on my phone, I turn it sideways to see everything that’s going on. And of course if I’m near my Apple TV at home, I project it onto the TV screen — which is way more horizontal than TVs used to be, because the TV industry finally developed a rudimentary aesthetic sense. Because horizontal is the best way to present practically anything.

Notice how much better TV is now? I don’t think it’s an accident that it got better when it went horizontal. Who wants a closeup of Walter White standing there in his silly underpants? We need to see the RV and the desert spread out around him.

breaking-bad-marithon

Vertical video is the unmistakable mark of the clueless — or of someone who’s hiding something, trying to make you look at this one thing rather than see the context in which that one thing is occurring.

Look, I can see being sympathetic. I could see writing a piece such as this one: “Defending vertical videos: They’re stupid, but it’s not your fault.

But defending them as the right way to do it? No. Never. That would be like saying reality TV is a good thing because lots of people watch it. Absolutely not.

Where am I? What's going on? Where's the rest of the picture?

Where am I? What’s going on? Where’s the rest of the picture?

We’ve come to this — a ‘reporter’ delivering an editorial

There’s nothing special about this example I’m sharing with you. It’s just a fairly clear-cut one of the blurring of news and editorial functions in the New Normal.

In today’s Open Thread, I shared this item about where we stand 20 years after the End of Welfare as We Knew It.

Later, I glanced at the above video that appeared on the same page with it.

Most of the way through it, I didn’t think much of it until the very end, when the young woman on camera says, “I’m Emily Badger, reporter for Wonkblog.”

Did she really just say “reporter?” I ask because if you take every word she just said and put it on an opinion page, you have an editorial. Or an op-ed column, but it was largely spoken in the truth-from-above, ex cathedra tones of an editorial. Only by an engaging young woman, rather than some gray, disembodied, royal “we.”

Which I expect from a blog. I mean, really, how many blogs do you go to for straight news? And as I say over and over to any who remain confused, this is an opinion blog. I don’t have the resources — reporters, and editors to guide and read behind them — to publish a news blog. All I can do here is comment on the information provided to us by organizations that still do have such resources. (Sure, there are exceptions — I occasionally attend some news event and share what I saw and heard — but generally I’m not set up to inform so much as to engage with information obtained elsewhere.

And I certainly don’t call myself a reporter. I haven’t been a reporter since the spring of 1980.

That’s what grabbed me — her title.

I have no problem with blogs offering opinion. That would indeed be the height of hypocrisy

But it’s an adjustment for me seeing and hearing it coming from a “reporter.”

Reporters who unapologetically spout editorials. O brave new world, That has such people in ’t!

Badger

A thumbs-up from Chuck Yeager!

Chuck Yeager X-1

OK, technically it was Mike Fitts whose Tweet got a “like” from the Man at the Top of that ol’ Pyramid. Not me.

But my name was mentioned!

Mike sent this to my attention this morning:

Which I of course immediately reTweeted. After which I saw this, to my delight:

yeager tweet

All right! I have been in contact, however indirectly, with the man with the most righteous stuff in the Twitterverse

Yeager Twitter

‘Survey says…!’ My opinion continues to be in great demand

"Survey says..!"

“Survey says..!”

At the moment, in my Inbox, I have messages asking me to fill out surveys giving feedback about:

  1. The last time I gave platelets at the Red Cross.
  2. A recent lunch at the Capital City Club.
  3. My dealings with the service department at Canon regarding a malfunctioning printer.
  4. My dealings with the AT&T service department regarding a faulty router.
  5. My recent six-month checkup with my internist.

Two of them came in on the 11th, two on Monday and the other today, and I haven’t gotten to any of them.

And while I appreciate that they all care so much about what I think of the service, the cumulative effect is a bit overwhelming. Reminds me of school, when every teacher assumed she or he was the only class giving you homework. They meant well, too.

The one I definitely want to respond to is the Canon one, but not yet — because, unbeknownst to Canon, we’re not done yet.

I have this wonderful ImageClass MF6160 dw printer that I got for Christmas, and it’s given me great service ever since. Until a couple of weeks back, that is.

There are two things about it I particularly love — the multiple-page-document feeder on the top for copying and scanning, which saves a lot of tedious standing there to feed it; and the fact that I can immediately print out anything I see on my iPad or phone from anywhere in the house.

But then I came back from vacation, turned it on, and got an error message and a complete refusal to do anything — copy, scan, print, whatever.

I spent several evenings trying to call Canon before realizing they shut down the phone lines at 8 p.m. (the recording would tell me they were closed, but would NOT tell me what the hours were). So I sent them a long email, with all the particulars, and received a response telling me to call. By 8, of course.

So I called. And the guy who answered was unable to call up my email, so I started from scratch with him. He concluded that I needed to download some new firmware. But my printer had not come with a USB cable, so he said he’d just send me a new printer.

Which is great, right? It came yesterday — earlier than I expected, so great again. But my new AT&T router came the same day, so I installed that first and got all my devices up and working on the home network before dealing with the printer. (Everything went as advertised with the new modem/router, so yay, AT&T! A loyal advertiser on bradwarthen.com, by the way…)

I finally got it all unpacked, and carefully put all the pieces of orange tape that came on it onto the old printer that I have to ship back to them, and turned it on. No error message! And it copies fine.

But it won’t print or scan because I can’t get it to connect to my devices via wifi. Even though I’ve been through the ritual of making the connection several times, and each time it says it’s connected.

And of course, by this time it was well after 8 p.m.

So tonight I’ll call them, and see if we can get all this straightened out. And after that, I’ll fill out their survey. And I’ll be happy then, because I love my printer, and I just want it back.

And then maybe I’ll get to the other ones as well.

I mean, it’s nice that they care what I think….

Hey, I know! Since they value what I think so much, maybe they’d all like to get together and pay me what I used to get paid at the paper to express what I think! If they’d do that, I’d fill out surveys all day….

John Oliver on the plight of newspapers

I had trouble finding time to watch this, and if we wait until I have time to comment on it, I’ll never get around to posting it. I have actual work to do.

So… I urge y’all to watch it, and comment, and I’ll jump in and join you later.

I’ll just say that the piece is well-done, and accurate. The truest thing Oliver says is when he indicates that no one has figured out a good way to pay for the journalism our society needs going forward (now that print advertising, which used to be like a license to print money, has essentially gone away). In other words, he says a lot of things I’ve said before, in a less entertaining matter. (My Brookings piece, for instance, wasn’t crafted for laughs.)

That’s the truth, and the tragedy. One can make fun of all the media executives who are trying various stupid strategies to keep going, but the indisputable fact is that no one has come up with the right approach yet…

Barack Obama, Selfie Subject in Chief

Did selfies exist when W. was president? I don’t recall, but they’ve certainly been a huge factor in the current administration.

They’ve both been part of the Obama legend — this was the youthful, supposedly tech-savvy president who complained back in 2009 about having to curtail use of his Blackberry (an archaic device that, amazingly, he continued to use into this year, thanks to the government’s sclerotic pace of adaptation) — and a bit of a curse, as everyone he meets spins away from him in order to snap a shot.

As The Washington Post noted just this week:

Obama has complained — with increasing regularity during his final year in office — about the prevalence of the selfie and its intrusion on his personal space. But the president, who has leveraged his image as a tech-savvy and approachable leader to mobilize young voters, has not been willing or able — despite his ample executive powers — to contain the selfie explosion. No blanket selfie ban has been issued.

The upshot: Obama and the humble smartphone have forever altered one of the most iconic American moments. Never again will citizens interact with their president in quite the same way. #ThanksObama….

Generally he’s been a good sport, as you’ll recall from the famous Buzzfeed video, in which he reached out to young people by letting on that he, too, could be way narcissistic.

heres_looking_at_you_obama.0

Then there was the selfie he and soon-to-be-ex-PM Cameron oh-so-cheerfully posed for with the hot Scandinavian blonde… with the First Lady sitting off to the side scowling — as well she should, since they were in the middle of a funeral for one of the most revered people on the planet (actually, the photographer later said the photo was misleading on that score):

MANDELA-SELFIE_2761644b

It’s a bit weird the way this one minor feature of smartphones — the reverse lens, a goofy little add-on — has transformed the way people across the country and around the planet interact with the most powerful man in the world.

Yesterday, I remarked on the lack of gravitas exhibited by the president and the young leader of Canada in the selfie Tweeted by PM Trudeau. David Carlton chided me a bit, saying he was pleased to see national leaders so loose and informal.

And I suppose it’s all right. At least they’re wearing coats and ties, so my Tory sensibilities aren’t too offended. Harrumph.

I, personally, do not have a selfie with the president, strictly speaking. I have this old-fashioned shot taken by an actual photographer after interviewing then-Sen. Obama in 2008. Sorry. Best I could do:

brad-Obama

General, you might want to spread your troops out a bit

ClevNgYWYAAMQks

Ran across this photo when the U.S. Army Tweeted it out in celebration of National Selfie Day — which apparently is a thing — earlier this week.

It shows Gen. Robert B. Abrams, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command at Fort Bragg, posing with some of his troops.

All I could think was that in a combat situation — and the way they’re decked out it certainly looks like a combat situation — a formation like this would be suicidal. One mortar round, and that’s it.

I’d just feel a lot better if they were spread out in a proper skirmish line.

Beyond that, it just looks ridiculous… it sort of cracked me up.

A gram is better than a damn, ma’am

Soma ad

Sometimes Google Adsense makes, well, sense — such as the Ancestry.com ad I’m seeing in the rail at right — I’ve really been into building my family tree lately.

Sometimes I am mystified. That’s the case with the “Soma” ad you see above.

Doubly mystified. To me, “Soma” means:

  1. The therapeutic and recreational drug of choice in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, where “A gramme is better than a damn” is axiomatic. It is used to keep people in that creepy utopia from feeling disagreeable emotions. Life is tough? Take a soma holiday!
  2. The muscle relaxer I have used at times over the years — generic name “carisoprodol.”

I don’t associate it with ladies in swimsuits. But apparently, that’s a thing now.

I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s that their products are meant to fit women’s physical forms, since “soma” means “the body as distinct from the soul, mind, or psyche.” You know, as in “psychosomatic.”

But it caught my eye…

Soma

Apparently, Hillary is more ‘with it’ than I am

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I saw the reporting on this Tweet from Hillary Clinton, in reply to Donald Trump:

… and I was like, “Yeah, OK. So?” To me, it seemed to be an extremely unimaginative response, smacking slightly of authoritarianism (as though Hillary had, along with winning the nomination, just been named Hall Monitor of Twitter).

Apparently, it’s a thing, and the kids loved it:

Can we get you some ice for that burn, Donald?

Hillary Clinton shut down presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump on Thursday with a simple, three-word tweet to end all beefs.

Clinton’s tweet — repurposing a well-known and beloved Internet meme — was in response to Trump’s reaction that President Barack Obama had endorsed Clinton (his former Secretary of State) for the 2016 election. …

Well, the fact that that lame response was “a well-known and beloved internet meme” was entirely news to me, so I followed the link to the alleged best uses of the meme ever.

And you know what? Each of those struck me as just as flat and uninteresting and blah as when Hillary used it. To much-younger Twitter-users, though, it is the distilled essence of wit, or so I’m told.

Huh. They don’t ask for much, do they?

But even if the first thousand or so uses of the line were just high-larious (which I doubt, but let’s just say they were), it still shows a lack of imagination for Hillary to use it instead of coming up with something original.

And as “burns” go, it seems decidedly tepid.

But as I say, apparently the kids loved it, and isn’t that the point when you’re Hillary, and desperate for some of that juice that Bernie has with the young?

The reaction she’s gotten probably has the Democrat just hugging herself, saying, “I’m with it. I’m groovy. I’m fab. I’m a hepcat. 23 skidoo…”

Trigger warning: This may insult your intelligence

And it also might give you stressful flashbacks to some really maddening conversations you had during your college days.

So you are warned. This is not a safe space.

So much has been written about the newer sorts of ideological correctness on the campuses of American universities, mostly by haughty old white guys such as George Will and Bill Kristol, just harrumphing away.

51xdxNQIQ1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Or for that matter by Kim R. Holmes (don’t worry! even though the name is “Kim,” it’s another oppressor white guy, refusing to check his privilege!), the author of The Closing of the Liberal Mind, which was was reviewed this morning in The Wall Street Journal.

So unless academia is your milieu, you’ve probably only heard such terms as “trigger warnings,” “safe space,” “cultural appropriation” and “microaggressions” within a disapproving context.

So it was kind of a nice idea to give the kids themselves a say in the matter, and over the weekend The Washington Post did that with a story headlined, “The new vocabulary of protest: What students mean by terms like ‘safe space’.”

Trouble is, while I feel for the student who says she doesn’t think the desire for a “safe space” or concern about microaggressions “makes me a stupid, naive child,” most of the quotes in the piece… how shall I put this?…

Basically, they read like the quotes a satirist would construct in creating fictional students who espouse the notions that The Closing of the Liberal Mind criticizes. A satirist who know nothing about these terms other than what he read by the critics.

If you’re likely to harrumph along with Will, this piece isn’t going to change your mind a bit.

These kids are sensitive. Just ask them; they’ll tell you. Like hothouse flowers. And they talk just like people who have a worldview that is entirely rooted in that sort of sensitivity.

So, stereotypes are not dispelled. Some samples:

Fadumo Osman: When I wear my traditional clothing I’m a foreigner and I’m criminalized for it, but when you wear it you make money off of it, and it’s cute….

Liam Baronofsky: One microaggression is like one paper cut, so it’s something small but it hurts the person at the core of their identity level. But it happens so often, you come home every day with like 15 paper cuts … and it really hurts….

But perhaps you’ll disagree. Go read the story, and let me know what you think.

 

Finally, Twitter will only count the characters you actually TYPE

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This is exciting news for those of us who are addicted to Twitter — and it’s long overdue.

How many times have you carefully honed a Tweet to well under 140 characters, only to have it disqualified when you add the photo or link that inspired the post?

Did that feel unfair to you? It should have. It always has to me, even though, over the years, I’ve come to accept the stricture.

Mind you, it’s not that I object to the 140-character limit itself. Far from it. I embrace it. I think it provides the necessary tension to keep Tweets lean and mean — there’s just enough room to express an idea as long as you squeeze the fat out. It’s just right. It’s like the 90 feet between bases — an inch more or less and the balance between runners and defense wouldn’t be perfect.

But when you attach a picture or a link to your carefully-honed Tweet, suddenly you’re over the limit, through no fault of your own.

In any case, this injustice is finally at an end, or about to be:

Twitter Inc. is making a major shift in how it counts characters in Tweets, giving users more freedom to compose longer messages.

The social media company will soon stop counting photos and links as part of its 140-character limit for messages, according to a person familiar with the matter. The change could happen in the next two weeks, said the person who asked not to be named because the decision isn’t yet public. Links currently take up 23 characters, even after Twitter automatically shortens them. The company declined to comment….

“Declined to comment?” They should be shouting the good news from the rooftops!

Young Icelanders seem confused about God and science

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Yet another story from The Washington Post that I meant to post about over the weekend…

I was intrigued by this headline:

In this country, literally no young Christians believe that God created the Earth

The story reports that “Exactly zero percent of respondents in a recent survey said they believe that God created the Earth.”

That apparently includes the 40 percent or so of younger people in the increasingly secular country who still consider themselves to be Christian.

I tried to find out how that could be, and the explanation was confusing:

Despite the trend, the Evangelical Lutheran Church is still the country’s declared state church. Solveig Anna Boasdottir, a professor at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Iceland, agreed that scientific progress had changed religious attitudes in the country. But she said that about 40 percent of the country’s younger generation still consider themselves Christian — but none of them believe that God created the Earth. “Theories of science are broadly accepted among both young and old. That does not necessarily affect people’s faith in God,” she said….

Yeah. Got that. I don’t see any reason why acceptance of science would diminish faith in God — I’ve always found that simplistic dichotomy (God on one side, science on the other) — to be rather absurd, with the battle over evolution being one of the more ridiculous manifestations.

But I don’t see how it would affect people’s belief that God made the world, either.

I’ve always thought evolution is exactly the way God would create people and other species — a majestically slow, dignified, enormously complex process, rather than some Cecil B. DeMille, abracadabra “poof!”

Same with the geological eons to create the world on which all these species live.

Yeah, I get it that some people are very literal-minded, and they think that if it didn’t happen in the six days set out in the Genesis allegory, then God must have had nothing to do with it.

So if this survey is right, every single person who lives in Iceland is that literal-minded.

Which surprises me…

So basically, these folks are the opposite of deists, who believed God did create the world, but then left it alone…

The story even acknowledges what seems obvious to me, which is that “some Christians believe both in the Big Bang theory and God’s role.” So… how does that lead to no one believing God created the world?

Maybe the story’s just not well-written…

A film almost, but not quite, entirely unlike anything that appeals to me

When I saw the email from Netflix headlined “Brad, we just added a movie you might like,” I braced myself. Netflix chirpily announcing it has something I will like gives me the same creeping feeling that Arthur Dent got when the Syrius Cybernetics Corporation’s Nutrimatic drinks dispenser offered him another cup of liquid that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

And sure enough, here’s what it was offering me:

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Don’t know about you, but I consider that to be one of the silliest, most ridiculously hyped films of the past decade. It easily qualifies as my least favorite Ron Howard film, and I suppose my least favorite featuring Tom Hanks as well.

It was like a cheesy retelling of Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum, and I didn’t like that, either. There are people who just eat up a tale involving a conspiracy stretching over thousands of years, especially when it involves the Knights Templar (as both tales do). I’m not one of them. I’m not a huge fan of the whole paranoia thriller genre to begin with, and when you stretch it to such extremes, you totally lose me.

And don’t even bother feeding me a tale about brilliant algorithms duplicating the human mind and taking over the world. When Netflix gets a clue as to what I like, then I’ll worry…