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Showing posts from July, 2016

Juggling

The International Juggler's Association had it's 69th Festival in El Paso Texas this year, just down the road from here. My wife and I drove down I 10 to spectate at some of the goings on. I used to juggle a little, never with much proficiency - I could do some elementary tricks with three balls or three clubs, but it's been quite a few years. I couldn't help picking up and hefting a few snazzy clubs, a torch or two, and even a battle-axe and a chain saw. Chain saws are heavy. Friday night featured a fire show, with people juggling, spinning, etc all sorts of flaming objects, and Saturday night culminated in big professional show. If one does juggling in Las Vegas, or a circus, most of the audience has no clue what's going on and no appreciation of the technical difficulty or artistry needed to carry out the performance, but at the IJA one is performing for the elect, and they can really appreciate the cool stuff. So I picked up three bean bags this morning…

Trump's Sacrifices.

From ABC News One of the most powerful lines in one of the DNC’s most emotional speeches came when Khizr Khan, the Muslim father of a U.S. Army captain killed in Iraq, told Donald Trump, “You have sacrificed nothing!” Now, in his first response to Khan’s address, during an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos set to air Sunday morning, Trump responded to that line by saying,“I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard.” Apparently Trump has some difficulty coming up with any actual sacrifices he had made. Pressed by Stephanopoulos to name the sacrifices he’d made for his country, Trump said: “I think I've made a lot of sacrifices. I work very, very hard. I've created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs, built great structures. Some have suggested that putting your name on Casinos is not quite as big a sacrifice as losing one's son in battle. In case the question comes up again, I have made up my own list of some stu…

Speech, Speech

I thought Hillary gave a good speech. Then she stopped, and I waited for the balloons to fall. They did not. Next she gave another speech, not so good as the first. Then she read her laundry list. She interspersed a few slaps at Trump. Finally, I wondered if she was ever going to stop. Whatever happened to brevity as the soul of wit?

Putin-Trump 2016

Josh Marshall: For me you start with a series of highly disturbing and dangerous comments by Trump about Russia and NATO. As I noted a couple weeks ago, our relative peaceful and prosperous world is far from the natural or only possible order of things. Things can get bleak very quickly, especially when you're stupid. Trump's comments are far more than highly questionable foreign policy ideas. He seems unable to understand high level geopolitics as anything more than a protection racket with him running for American mob boss. Even if Trump is no more than ignorant, impulsive and stupid, these are highly disturbing intimations of a Trump presidency that should have everyone across the political spectrum taking note and re-evaluating what sort of situation we're dealing with. But that's not all there is. On top of that you have very high level advisors to Trump who have been deeply immersed in the Putin world of dirty politics and energy concessions that characterizes P…

Is Trump the Siberian Candidate?

Even before the leaked DNC emails were traced to hacks by Russian intelligence, Paul Krugman and others were assembling the evidence that Trump was Putin's candidate. Beyond the extravagant mutual admiration society, there are the money ties. Trump's campaign manager, for example, Paul Manafort, was previously in the employ of Victor Yanukovich, Putin's deposed man in Ukraine. another excerpt or two. Then came Mr. Trump’s interview with The New York Times, in which, among other things, he declared that even if Russia attacked members of NATO he would come to their aid only if those allies — which we are bound by treaty to defend — have “fulfilled their obligations to us.” ...there are reasons to wonder about Mr. Trump’s own financial interests. Remember, we know nothing about the true state of his business empire, and he has refused to release his taxes, which might tell us more. We do know that he has substantial if murky involvement with wealthy Russians and Russian…

Ghostbust

Art students are often found in museums, copying the work of the masters. In this way, I expect, they learn a lot about technique. If they are fairly good, the work they produce will look a lot like the masterpiece from which it is copied. It won't be a masterpiece though, even if it is a very faithful copy, because the students are not themselves masters, but ultimately because it is only a copy. The new Ghostbusters copies the old, but it's not even a really good copy. The student lacks technique. The delicate brushstrokes of the original are here reduced to clumsy splotches and blotches. They say that a great masterwork reveals more and more of itself with closer study, and the original Ghostbusters had a little bit of that as various subplots were woven together. The new GB is as subtle as a pie in the face, and just about as funny. In the original, the principal protagonist, Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) was a cynical fraud and a scoundrel, using his psychic ex…

Drone Warfare Hasn't Worked

The idea behind drone war was to make war somewhat less inhumane. Instead of responding to acts of war with mass murder, just find and murder the perpetrators. A decade or so of assassinations of "ringleaders" and "masterminds" doesn't seem to have worked though. I suspect that the failure can be ascribed to our fundamental tribal nature. For most of human history, our security against murder by members of other families or tribes depended on our the members of our tribe, clan, or family being ready to extract revenge. That revenge impulse may well be maximally excited by anonymous assassination from the sky. There is every indication that routine drone assassinations don't discourage future jihadists but recruit them. The alternative may be a return to the far more brutal methods of the past. If we had had drones during the American Civil War, Lee's army would probably still be in Vicksburg. That war ended only with Sherman's brutal march to…

Evisceration, Liberal Style

If I see one more headline celebrating some comedian's "demolition" of Trump, I will probably puke. John Stewart recently crawled from beneath Stephen Colbert's desk to deliver another such denunciation. The fact that such denunciations only appeal to the already convinced was only reinforced by the fact that Stewart was dressed like he had been sleeping under a bridge. Trump is a joke, alright, but any liberal with any sense ought to be aware that there is a good chance hat the joke will be on us.

At the Movies: Tarzan

Edgar Rice Burroughs was one of our most prolific and inventive writers of adventure fantasy, and his Tarzan books were his most important. From the Wikpedia article: In a Paris Review interview, Ray Bradbury said of Burroughs that "Edgar Rice Burroughs never would have looked upon himself as a social mover and shaker with social obligations. But as it turns out – and I love to say it because it upsets everyone terribly – Burroughs is probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world."[21] Bradbury continued that "By giving romance and adventure to a whole generation of boys, Burroughs caused them to go out and decide to become special."In any case, he wrote the first books I read, and I soon read nearly everything he wrote. The new Tarzan movie is silly, of course, but it aims at a serious subject, the brutal exploitation of the Congo by one of history's great villains, King Leopold II of Belgium. Leopold stays off screen, but one of …

Pawn to Cleveland Four

Franklin Foer has a sinister theory of the affinity between Trump and Putin. Is it crazy? I report... Foer points out that Putin has a history of supporting right-wing thugs and crooks in Europe. Vladimir Putin has a plan for destroying the West—and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump. Over the past decade, Russia has boosted right-wing populists across Europe. It loaned money to Marine Le Pen in France, well-documented transfusions of cash to keep her presidential campaign alive. Such largesse also wended its way to the former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, who profited “personally and handsomely” from Russian energy deals, as an American ambassador to Rome once put it. (Berlusconi also shared a 240-year-old bottle of Crimean wine with Putin and apparently makes ample use of a bed gifted to him by the Russian president.) There’s a clear pattern: Putin runs stealth efforts on behalf of politicians who rail against the European Union and want to push away from NATO. He’s b…

Mysterious Matter

I have in front of me one of the most complex and baffling assemblages of technology ever created. A thousand or more confusing options and choices are presented to me at every turn. It's also delicate and fragile. I speak, of course, of my first digital SLR. Fortunately it has an idiot mode, which I learned just well enough to show that I can take bad pictures even when everything but the inevitable human element is automated. Perhaps I will learn to download them to my computer today.

Word/Bond Nonsense

Ted Cruz had a little Q&A with RNC delegates over his refusal to endorse Trump. One of the low lights occurred when a weeping Dimbo attacked him for failing to keep his debate "promise" to support the nominee of the party. Cruz had a fairly good answer, basing his opposition on Trump's slander of his father and insulting his wife, but I think that there is a better one: Nobody who isn't willing to go back on a political pledge when the good of the country requires it is qualified for the Presidency or any other high office. Politicians who hold political office, in particular, have a much higher duty in the pledge they made to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. Nobody should be President who is completely bound by that foolish consistency that Emerson called the hobgoblin of little minds. Some pledges, like promising to support the Party's nominee no matter what, or to not raise taxes, no matter what, are perniciously foolish on th…

Celebrities Have Problems Too

I saw that Tom Hiddleston was quoted as saying that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift may have wondered: "Does that mean I have to kill him when his month is up?"

Trump On NATO

That Treaty? Nevermind.He even called into question whether, as president, he would automatically extend the security guarantees that give the 28 members of NATO the assurance that the full force of the United States military has their back. For example, asked about Russia’s threatening activities that have unnerved the small Baltic States that are the most recent entrants into NATO, Mr. Trump said that if Russia attacked them, he would decide whether to come to their aid only after reviewing whether those nations “have fulfilled their obligations to us.”I think I see why Putin loves him.

In Case Any Ambiguity Remained

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Laura Ingram pulls out her Hitler salute for the conclusion of her RNC speech: Want some context? For older memories:

Post Soviet Russia

I am always a bit perplexed at how quick some of the loudly anti-Communist are to embrace fascism. Perhaps they see it as some kind of opposite to Communism, but I don't see it - instead it's more like another face of the same disease. Or maybe they are just more like the American Capitalists who rushed into Stalin's Russia and Hitler's Germany, eager to make a buck selling them the rope to hang them with. I don't know, but some of them are quick to swallow the propaganda put out by some of the same apparatchiks (or their cousins) that used to do the same for the old USSR, and to salute the old KGB guy who runs it now. They should probably read Arkady Ostrogovsky's new history of post Soviet Russia - but they probably won't. From the Prologue: It was after midnight and I was making final changes to this book when I learned that Boris Nemtsov, a liberal politician once groomed to be president of Russia, had been shot six times in the back on a bridge j…

Roots

Ali H. Soufan in the NYT:THURSDAY’S terror-by-truck attack in Nice, France, was shocking in its outcome — 84 people killed and hundreds injured — but not in its methods. Jihadis have long called on sympathizers to transform everyday vehicles into instruments of mass slaughter. Six years ago, Al Qaeda’s English language magazine, Inspire — the publication that taught the Boston Marathon attackers how to manufacture pressure-cooker bombs — explicitly encouraged “lone wolves” to ram pedestrians with their cars. More recently, the Islamic State’s principal spokesman, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, has called for similar tactics. Over the past few years, vehicle attacks without the use of explosives have taken place from Israel to Canada. ... If we are serious about eliminating this threat, the West has to make some major changes. First, and most obviously, we have to recognize that the Islamic State’s occupation of large sections of Iraq and Syria is not a distant tragedy, but the driving for…

Coup Coup Kachoo

Not likely to be good news, no matter who wins.

Ghostbusters

I haven't seen the new Ghostbusters, so I don't have any firm opinions, though I understand that it's become something of a feminist touchstone, what with the new female cast. I'm a little nervous about its prospects though, on the basis of the trailers I've seen which aren't even slightly funny. My kids must have been perhaps 4 and 6 when we got the original Ghostbusters video. They immediately became transfixed, insisting on watching it every day if we would let them. So I've seen it several dozen or perhaps even hundreds of times. I became convinced that it was a true masterpiece, an all but perfect mix of scary, funny and sensual. The deadpan humor of Murray, Aykroyd, and Ramis was critical, as was Reitman's directorial touch. The rest of the cast was also great. My favorite line: "Back off man, I'm a scientist."

One More Time

Why does ISIS still exist and hold territory?

NATO and Europe's Ridiculous Fantasies

The latest NATO meeting was about how Europe can continue to get the US to keep protecting it from its hungry neighbor to the East. Europeans like the idea of being protected without having to make more than symbolic efforts to protect themselves. Tiny countries with the population of a small world city think they should be able to keep their own customs, borders, toy armies and national independence without bearing much of the cost. Europe has sufficient population and more than sufficient economic power to protect itself, but it is unwilling to make the kind of sacrifices of petty jealousies that would make it strong. What it needs is what the thirteen colonies of the original United States finally recognized they needed - a unified nation with a unified politics, economy and military. Chances of that actually happening anytime soon would probably challenge the probabilistic fantasies of Star Trek's Mr. Spock. If Putin's man Trump wins the election, though, Europe migh…

Reforming Football

Soccer, I mean. American football is a lost cause. More than a few fans seem to agree with me that games like the Euro Final are mostly boring, irritating, and frequently unjust. The first few minutes, when France attacked pell mell, and the final overtime, when Portugal scored, were exciting, although the referee's disastrous miscall on the Portugal handball did help set up their goal. The problem is that the odds are stacked against the offense, and a mediocre team like Portugal can sit back protecting the goal with all hands, and with a little luck, let the better team exhaust itself trying to attack. The following suggestion was offered to me: prohibit two or three designated forwards from defending in their own half - or maybe 1/3. This would allow teams to create a majority attack at the risk of a strong counter. With luck, this should double or triple scoring. In overtime, soccer should take a page from hockey, and play the overtimes with reduced sides of maybe seve…

Autism and Intelligence

Autism is a frequently severe and sometime crippling neurological condition which, somewhat paradoxically, seems to be associated with genes for high intelligence. Excerpt from Bernard J. Crespi, via Tyler Cowen, self diagnosed Autist: A suite of recent studies has reported positive genetic correlations between autism risk and measures of mental ability. These findings indicate that alleles for autism overlap broadly with alleles for high intelligence, which appears paradoxical given that autism is characterized, overall, by below-average IQ. This paradox can be resolved under the hypothesis that autism etiology commonly involves enhanced, but imbalanced, components of intelligence. This hypothesis is supported by convergent evidence showing that autism and high IQ share a diverse set of convergent correlates, including large brain size, fast brain growth, increased sensory and visual-spatial abilities, enhanced synaptic functions, increased attentional focus, high socioeconomic sta…

Hating on Republicans: One More Reason

From Paul Krugman's NYT Column:To put it bluntly, the modern Republican Party is in essence a machine designed to deliver high after-tax incomes to the 1 percent. Look at Mr. Ryan: Has he ever shown any willingness, for any reason, to make the rich pay so much as a dime more in taxes? Comforting the very comfortable is what it’s all about. But not many voters are interested in that goal. So the party has prospered politically by harnessing its fortunes to racial hostility, which it has not-so-discreetly encouraged for decades. These days, former President George H.W. Bush is treated as an elder statesman, too gentlemanly to endorse the likes of Donald Trump — but remember, he’s the one who ran the Willie Horton ad. Mitt Romney is also sitting this one out — but he was happy to accept Mr. Trump’s endorsement back when the candidate was best known for his rabid birtherism. And Mr. Ryan, after a brief pretense of agonizing about Mr. Trump, is now in full attack-dog mode on the can…

Tribal Conflict

Human nature exhibits some unusual behavioral traits - unusual but not unprecedented in the animal kingdom. In particular, we are capable of a very high degree of altruism and have a strong tendency to group ourselves into tribes. Like ants, bees, termites, certain shrimps and naked mole rats and a handful of others, we are a eusocial species. All such species, asserts Edward O. Wilson, writing in The Social Conquest of Earth, start with the adoption of a defensible nest. One solid principle drawn from this analysis of the hymenopterans, and other insects as well, is that all of the species that have attained eusociality, as I have stressed, live in fortified nest sites. A second principle, less well established but probably nonetheless universal, is that the protection is against enemies, namely predators, parasites, and competitors. A final principle is that, all other things being equal, even a little society does better than a solitary individual belonging to closely related s…

Drone Strike, USA

From the NYT story:The police killed that suspect using an explosive delivered by a robot, he said, and arrested three other people. The chief said the snipers had worked together, firing rifles from triangulated positions, some of them looking down from elevated posts in downtown buildings.

Race Wars

I think that it's possible to believe that the recent police shootings of black men were prompted by police racism without concluding that they are anything like premeditated murder - instead they are a consequence of the deadly mix of police racism, a heavily armed citizenry, and police panic under stress. The attack by snipers in Dallas that killed at least four officers and wounded eight others clearly was premeditated murder and an attempt to provoke a race war. If such a war were to spread, it would be a catastrophe, especially for blacks, possibly undoing all the progress of the last half century.