Thursday, June 15, 2017

Computers and Language

So-called artificial intelligence programs are still a long way from tackling language. And by language I mean languages which are spoken by humans, like English or Japanese. "Computer languages," sets of instructions followed by computers, are not the same as human languages. It has not been demonstrated yet that the languages which we speak can be reduced to such sets of instructions. If they can, we're still a long way away from doing it. If they can't, then, in my opinion, that would be one of the reasons not to worry about the machines eventually rising up and killing us all. If a computer was capable of having a conversation with me which was indistinguishable from a conversation with a human, then I'd be startled. And possibly a little spooked as well. I would include written conversations like those in chat rooms.

Math is exact and language is not. Often times letters, the symbols used to record some languages, have been used as mathematical symbols. Roman numerals are one well-known example of that. But while the symbols used in language and math may be the same, what they refer to is not. X + IV = XIV means exactly the same as 10 + 4 = 14, and any number of different systems of notation can be used to express exactly the same thing as 10 + 4 = 14. However, many times the simplest sentences are untranslatable from one language to another. And very many, perhaps most sentences cannot be exactly translated. Furthermore, in many cases, perhaps most, the best translation is a matter of opinion. Highly-qualified experts in linguistics and literature routinely disagree about whether this translation of a poem or novel is better than that one.

As long as we're talking about translation made by humans, that is. With all of the astounding advances made in computing, the best computer translation programs still routinely produce results which are comically bad and far inferior to any work done by any competent professional human translator. The same goes for original written compositions by computers compared with those written by ordinary lit students.

Computers are far beyond humans now when it comes to playing chess. (And if recent headlines have not misled me, computers are about to pass us as Go players as well.) But computers play chess differently than humans, by crunching enormous amounts of data. How do we humans do it? Well, we don't know yet.

Perhaps human intelligence would be less mysterious if the possibility were more often considered that it involves things which aren't reducible to math. Perhaps researchers sometimes resist considering that, because one of the things it would mean is that we're not, in fact, on the brink of developing artificial intelligence. Well, actually, many people think that we're already well past the brink, and that artificial intelligence has already existed for some time.

No doubt, information technology has produced many amazing things, and continues to do so with no end in sight. Maybe there's no reason for me to object to calling some of those things artificial intelligence. I don't go around angrily telling IT people to stop using the term "computer language."

But as I've said, a computer language is a fundamentally different thing than a language spoken by humans. And artificial intelligence, if we want to use that term for things which already exist, and why not -- I mean, people are using that term for things which exist, whether we approve or not -- is still fundamentally different from what human brains do. Playing chess, computers win. Writing poems, computers still have not given us any competition. Perhaps the things needed in order to write great poems are quantifiable. But perhaps they're not.

And perhaps the latter possibility is too often overlooked.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Bad Mental Habit of Anachronism

The Roman roads were not "the Internet of the ancient world." Clipper ships were not "the Internet of the 19th century." I really dislike this tendency on the part of some historians, and some pseudo-historians and sort-of-historians, to say that something was "the (insert 21st-century thing) of (insert earlier era.)" That does not help people to understand what the earlier era was like.

In the ancient world, yes, the Roman roads did improve travel significantly. But it still could take months or years for news to travel from one part of the world to another. But most people didn't travel much at all, unless they were soldiers, which could be a very unpleasant way of traveling.

There were no newspapers in the ancient world. To say that the Roman Acta Diurna were daily newspapers is again a disservice to anyone trying to understand the ancient world. They were daily announcements, but they were not newspapers. More like signs, put up in a public place in Rome, with a little bit of information or misinformation which the government wanted the people to receive. The earliest thing in Europe resembling a news periodical was the Notizie scritte which began to appear in Venice in the 16th century. It only appeared monthly. In 1631 a weekly news publication, La Gazette, began to appear in Paris. The earliest daily newspaper of which I am aware was the Daily Courant, which began publication in London in 1702. And none of these early European news publication was affordable to the general public. Newspapers aimed at the general public didn't begin to appear until the 19th century.

So what? So stop telling me that there are no mentions of Jesus in any ancient newspapers, that's what. The Acta Diurna were not a newspaper; no copies of any of them have survived; they weren't made and distributed in big stacks of papyrus copies. That would have been an extremely extravagant expense. They were scratched into stone or metal, a few words a day. One copy. Occasionally somebody would copy something down from one of them and send the copy to a governor.

It's hard to imagine what earlier eras were like. Often it's very difficult for us to remember earlier times in our own lives. I've noticed this in the records of earlier eras: people who lived most of their lives without the telegraph, for example, or passenger trains, took them completely for granted once they had been available for a few years. (Available to their privileged classes, that is. The difficulty of imagining the lives of those less fortunate seems to be another constant feature of human consciousness.) I'm 55 years old. I know that in my childhood there were 4 channels on TV, 3 commercial networks plus PBS, and that there was no Internet, and that very few people could afford computers, and that computers much simpler than the simplest of today's pocket calculators were as big as typewriters, or bigger.

I know this, but it's hard to really remember what it was like, and how much different things were back then. I know things such as that Presidential candidates could say one thing to one crowd, and something completely different to another crowd later the same day, and it was much harder to nail them for it if there wasn't any audio or video of either speech, and often there wasn't. So, for example, when Hunter S Thompson tells me in his book on the 1972 Presidential campaign, during which I turned 11, that Hubert Humphrey did that sort of thing constantly, I have to take his word for it. (I do take Thompson's word for that. But why should you? Well, that's a tough one.)

Ah, but I'm going to have to explain to many of you what typewriters were.

They were not the Internet of the mid-20th century. There was no Internet back then.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Comey Vs Ryan OnTrump

Today, James Comey said:

"It confused me when I saw on television the president saying that he actually fired me because of the Russia investigation, and learned again from the media that he was telling privately other parties that my firing had relieved great pressure on the Russian investigation. I was also confused by the initial explanation that was offered publicly that I was fired because of the decisions I had made during the election year. That didn't make sense to me for a whole bunch of reasons, including the time and all the water that had gone under the bridge since those hard decisions that had to be made. That didn't make any sense to me. And although the law required no reason at all to fire an FBI director, the administration then chose to defame me and more importantly the FBI by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the workforce had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple."

That's the kind of comment that earns you a reputation for honesty.

Today, Paul Ryan said:

"The president’s new at this. He’s new to government, and so he probably wasn’t steeped in the long-running protocols that establish the relationships between DOJ, FBI and White Houses. He’s just new to this."

That's not.

What Comey said was surprising, not because it's news to anybody that the President is a pathological liar, one of the biggest liars most of us have ever had the misfortune to encounter. It's surprising because so few of the leaders of the US and so few of the leading journalists covering US politics are coming right out and saying what we all know. It was also surprising because Comey is a Republican, and almost all of the Republicans are still doing what Ryan is doing: saying ridiculous things to try to cover up what everybody can plainly see: that the President is a liar, a crook, a bully, a sociopath and utterly unfit to hold any public office.

The Republicans are wasting so much time, saying so much weasel-mouthed infuriating garbage like Ryan excusing the President's behavior with comments like "He's new to this," letting things get so much worse and worse, before doing what we all know they are going to have to do: remove Trump from office. Unless they actually put that off until after the 2018 mid-term elections, when, if they still haven't done it, presumably enough of them will lose their seats to Democrats that removing Trump from office won't be up to them any more.

For years now, Republicans in elected office have failed to do the most important thing political leaders are supposed to do: lead. They've been following the base, and this has shown what following the base does: it makes the base stupider. It seems clear that the only thing which will cause the Republicans to impeach and remove Trump is Trump's approval rating sinking to a certain point. Now, if they were real leaders, and explaining to their constituents how horrible Trump is and how important it is to get rid of him, that would surely make Trump's approval ratings sink quickly. But that would be leadership. That would be integrity. That would be country over party. That would improve the party, give it some dignity. That would be the sort of thing Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt did. But of course, today's Republicans are just about exactly the opposite of Lincoln and Teddy. One of the last times I can remember a Republican elected official leading instead of following was during the 2008 Presidential campaign, when John McCain was taking questions at a campaign event, and a woman in the crowd said some birther nonsense about Obama, and McCain corrected her. I don't like John McCain very much, but unlike Paul Ryan, he does seem to have at least some principle and backbone.

Although today, at the hearing where Comey was testifying, McCain was very interested in Hillary's email, and at one point addressed Comey as "President Comey." McCain insisted that Comey was setting a "double standard" because the FBI investigation into Hillary's possible improper behavior with her emails was now closed, and this investigation into the Trump administration was not.

Yesterday McCain seemed very troubled by the state of the Trump administration. It seems we can't be sure which McCain we're going to get from one day to the next. He may not be the man to turn the GOP toward leadership, toward integrity, and toward doing the right thing with Trump.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

If Oprah Winfrey,

Larry King, Harold Bloom, Charlie Rose, Stephen King, John Grisham, Barack Obama, Martin Scorsese, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Brokaw, Keith Olbermann, Bob Costas, Barney Frank, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary and Bill and Chelsea Clinton, George Bush Sr and Babs and W, Elon Musk, Taylor Swift, Lady GaGa, Stephen Colbert, Jay Z, Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Tina Fey, Alicia Keyz, Kanye West, Leonardo DiCaprio, Demi Lovata and Raed Selah all praised my blog at once, all on the same day, publicly -- on Twitter or Facebook or their own shows or wherever they go to publicly praise obscure bloggers -- that'd be pretty cool for me.

Commercially. Those wouldn't be the 32 most flattering raves possible for me. In some of those 32 cases I'd be extremely flattered. Some of those people, I admire their work very much and value their opinions very highly. In other cases less so. And in some cases I don't even know who they are, or anything about them except that lots of people hang on their every word and gesture.

I don't suppose it's realistic to hope that all of those people will publicly praise my work today.

Life is hard. I need a break. I need a whole bunch of huge breaks.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Our Deadliest Enemy: HUMAN STUPIDITY

This really happened to me, just now. On the side of a busy road, a sign said, "GARAGE SALE. Everything FREE!" with an arrow pointing down a side street into a residential area.

No, the fact that "sale" doesn't match "free" is not the stupidity referred to in the title of this post. I noticed the incongruity right away, but it didn't really bother me. In retrospect, however, it does seem to match what followed. Onward:

I was somewhat busy, but the announced pricing scheme was too tempting to pass up. There was no address on the sign, so as I walked down the street I looked all around for anything resembling a garage or yard sale.

The street curved and ended in a T-intersection. I still saw no sale going on anywhere. And there was no sign about any sale anywhere in sight, either.

And now I'm thinking about people so stupid that they literally have great difficulty giving stuff away. I hope there are people looking out for them who realize how special they are.




All Solar All The Time

I have an unusual relationship with the sun. I don't like bright sunlight. This has to do with my autism. Even with me avoiding bright sunshine as much as I can, I still get very tan very quickly. Maybe this is a sign that my body doesn't NEED as much sun as the average body does.

So, I stay out of the sun, and find it unpleasant when I have to be outside on a sunny day -- pretty much the exact opposite of most people. It has been this way my entire life.

But lately a new element has been added: my enthusiasm for solar energy. This enthusiasm, much like the solar-power industry, has just kept rapidly growing and growing over the past few years. But despite the steady growth in solar power, I've been getting steadily more and more frustrated because it isn't growing faster. I see the bright sunlight falling down all around (usually looking out from inside through a window), and all I can think of is how that tremendous amount of energy is being wasted every second, because there aren't solar panels everywhere. You know how in movies sometimes there's a character who knows something very important, and he goes around yelling about it, but nobody understands this very important thing, and so everybody thinks he's crazy? I haven't gotten to the point yet where I go around screaming about solar power all the time. But I've gotten to the point where I can very easily picture myself doing it: "Put the solar panels everywhere! Smash the power of the private utilities! We don't need coal! We don't need it! Aaaarrrghh!"

Except that more and more people would understand exactly what I was talking about, and fewer and fewer would think I was crazy.

Maybe I should do it: just start flipping out and screaming about it in public. Maybe if I do, lots of others will join me.

This is a global issue, as you may have heard, but it's been much easier for me to find statistics on US solar power than on global solar power.

And even the US statistics aren't always entirely clear. For example, I've read that 1.3 rooftops in the US have solar panels, including nearly 400,000 installations in 2016 alone. But are those all residential rooftops, or does that include the rooftops of factories and warehouses and office buildings and restaurants and malls and gas stations and other buildings? And among residential rooftops, how do the logistics of solar for single-family houses compare to those of solar for apartment buildings of various sizes? Not to mention the logistics for non-residential buildings?

There are lots and lots of figures and stats involved here, and in case it isn't already completely obvious: I'm not up to speed yet on all of them. I apologize for being lazy about that even though I understand how important it is to give you the best information I can.

One figure that you see very often is that between 40% and 50% of America's electricity could be generated by solar. Frankly, I don't trust that figure, because I think they're not counting all of the places where solar panels could be put. I know, I know, it's not cost-efficient to put solar panels everywhere, or to completely cover every roof with PV (photovoltaic, light-to-electricity) panels. But let's put 'em everywhere anyway. Let's over-do it.

Plus, the technology is making the PV panels more efficient, and all of the other related technology more effective, such as batteries which keep more power longer. So I think we can go way past 50% of our electricity from solar.

And then there's still wind and geothermal and tidal and so forth.

Also: a lot of the projections about the future of solar power (and other renewable sources of energy) have to do with energy utility policy: utilities could decide to screw people over and minimize the benefits of renewables, legislatures could continue to give big incentives to oil and gas, etc.

In short: politics will have a lot to do with it.

Which means that we the people can grab this issue and make it ours. We can take over all the utilities, and vote for people who will run them for the greatest possible benefit to health and sanity, and pass laws which are friendly to methods of generating power which are friendly to living things. We can do that. In the US, that means: vote Democratic, and in the primaries, vote for the Democrats who're most progressive on energy. Don't throw your votes away by voting Green, because this is much too important. This post attempts to explain to American Green Party voters how it is that they are throwing their votes away while Green Party voters in other countries are not, and what changes we need to make to the US Constitution so that we can vote Green here too without throwing our votes away. The idea of doing away with the Electoral College has gotten very popular, and we should do that. But in addition to that, we can make a lot of other huge improvements in the way our government functions.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Hell

What is the evangelischer Kirchentag, which was held a couple of days ago in Berlin, and at which Barack Obama met with Angela Merkel? I don't really know for sure, except that I'm sure we don't have anything exactly like it in the US.

I got the impression from the news that the Kirchentag was pretty laid back in general.

This guy was there, and he does not seem laid back:


His sign reads:

"A warning to all drunks, liars, party animals, drug freaks, adulterers, porn freaks, masturbators, whores, thieves, abortionists, magicians, gossipers, hypocrites, homosexuals, greedy people, idolators, feminists, false Christians, atheists, pagans: Hell awaits you!"

Thanks for the heads-up, Buddy!

Clearly, that sign represents a minority view among Christians today. The thing is, though, for most of the history of Christianity, it was not a minority view, it was mainstream. You could get into a lot of trouble for saying that anything on that list was not going to be punished by an eternity of torment in Hell.

As I've pointed out before on this blog: many Christians today, most of them, have beliefs which are entirely at odds with the beliefs of Christians in earlier eras. Which makes me wonder why they still keep calling themselves Christians.

I'm not upset enough about this to go around waving signs of my own. That would be the New Atheists. In fact, my experiences with New Atheists have made me a lot more tolerant of religious believers. New Atheists have removed all doubt from my mind that whether or not a person has religious beliefs is NOT a reliable indicator of that person's intelligence.

Still, this huge contradiction between the great majority of today's Christians (and adherents of other faiths) and the history of Christianity (and the histories of those other faiths) is -- really quite something.

Someone saw that picture above and remarked that John Paul II said there was no Hell.

John Paul II didn't say that. I'm pretty sure not even Pope Francis has said anything like that yet.

But Christians, a lot of them, busily revise the history of Christianity, rather than deal with the contradictions between their beliefs and the history of their religion. And, again, it's exactly the same with other religions today.

Yes, progressive Christians, I get that you're entirely different than that guy with his hateful sign. And I'm not going to get up all in your faces about the things on that sign, but it's still the very plain truth that THAT is traditional Christianity, and that you guys are making it up as you go and still, for some reason, calling it Christianity.

And I get the reasons, too: There's a Hell of a lot of tradition and inertia here besides all that stuff on the guy's sign, and a lot of good stuff, and billions of people can't be expected to suddenly just dispose of one of the centrals aspects of their lives.

Still. It would be nice to hear more often that this good stuff is based on nonsense. As opposed to refusing to face that the nonsense ever existed, and insisting that none of the stories in the Bible were taken literally before 19th century America, and all of that recent nonsense.

It would be nice.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bin Ich Ein Noch Groesserer Genius, Als Ich Schon Ahnte?

Ist solches moeglich?

Bin ich denn wirklich der Erste, der je den beruehmteste und vielleicht bloedeste Spruch des ollen Langweiligers Cicero --

"O TEMPORA O MORES!"

Ins Deutsche als

"Ach die Zeiten, ach die Sitten!"

uebersetzt hat?

Meine Version, finde ich, rettet die ganze Bloedheit, Steifheit, Ahnungslosigkeit, Unhoeflichkeit und Laecherlichkeit des Originals in die deutsche Sprache.

WO BLEIBT MEIN VERFICKTER NOBEL, IHR ESEL?!

Naja. Gelassen bleiben. Wo ist Musils Nobel? Joyces? Prousts? Twains? Tolstojs?

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Vicente Fox Has Advice For Donald Trump

This video is awesome. It reminds me, an Amurrkin, what it's like when the leader of a country is intelligent and witty, instead of idiotic and also extremely unpleasant. Fox here talks to Trump as if Trump were a 5-year-old boy, so there's some chance that Trump might actually understand what Fox is saying to him.



If Trump sees this, or any of the other numerous televised messages Fox has sent him, and if he understands what the former Mexican President is saying -- will he actually take any of it to heart, and change for the better? It's extremely difficult for me to imagine that he will. I'm always saying that "never" is the most-overused word in the English language, but when it comes to Trump experiencing personal growth and becoming a better person, I really can't see any reason for hope.

I hope I'm wrong.

Meanwhile -- Republicans, you really should be ashamed of yourselves for having allowed him to remain President this long! What's it going to take for you to man and woman up, do your jobs and throw this bum out?! What will it take? Would a video of Trump handing flash drives full of top-secret intel to Russian spies and taking suitcases full of cash in return be enough? How about if he actually did stand on the sidewalk and shoot at random passers-by on 5th Av in NYC with a .45, like he's bragged he could and get away with it? Is he right, would you let him get away with that?

Friday, May 26, 2017

Swiss Watches

Geneva is in the easternmost corner of Switzerland, surround by France to the north, east and south. From Geneva the Swiss-French border runs about 100 miles, as the crow flies, to Basel, where the Swiss, French and German borders all meet. The area along this Swiss-French border between Geneva and Basel is quite mountainous, and was somewhat isolated before the invention of the railroad. In the early 18th century, most of the Swiss people living along this border were farmers. But snow prevented them from growing anything for about 6 months of the year. So they began to make parts for watches, to earn a little extra money. Many of them soon found out that they could make more money making these watch parts than buy farming, and began to make watches all year round, and their descendants have been watchmakers ever since. That's why so many big Swiss watchmakers are headquartered in tiny little Swiss mountain villages.

At first, Swiss watchmakers mostly concentrated on making inexpensive products. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the US was known as the place where the best watches were made. But by the mid-20th century, Swiss watches considered the best, and many of them had become quite expensive. Swiss watchmakers prided themselves in making their watches more and more accurate and precise.

Then quartz watches appeared. In the early 1970's, quartz watches made all over the world were more accurate than the finest spring-driven Swiss watches at a fraction of the price. In Switzerland, this time is called the Quartz Crisis.

Some Swiss watchmakers responded by making their own quartz watches. Many went out of business. Some of the oldest makers of fine watches were bought up by the Swatch Group, named after Swatches, the cheap, colorful, mostly quartz-driven watches which were a popular fad in the 1970's. As of 2002, Breguet, Blancpain, Leon Hatot, Jacques Droz, Glashiette, Omega, Longines, Rado, Tissot, Calvin Klein Watches, Union, Certina, Mido, Hamilton and Flik Flak belonged to the Swatch Group, along with Swatch itself, which is still around and still makes watches, mostly quartz but also some mechanical ones. How good are Swatch watches? I have no idea.

ETA is a Swiss company which mostly makes watch movements. A movement is the motor of a watch. ETA makes both quartz and mechanical movements. Many watchmakers both in Switzerland and in other parts of the world use ETA movements in some or all of their watches.

Some Swiss watchmakers have remained proudly independent, not being bought by the Swatch Group or any other corporate conglomerate, and making most or all of the movements for their own watches. (Watch afficienados and watch snobs have long and heated arguments about just how important it is for watchmakers to use movements they have made themselves -- also referred to as "in-house movements.") Three such companies, held in such high esteem that many people referred to them as the "Holy Trinity," are Patek Philippe (established in 1851), Vacheron Constantine (est 1755) and Audemars Piguet (est 1875). Although, these days, some would say that Jaeger-Lecoultre (est 1833) has become better than any of them. One thing's for sure: all 4 of those companies make very high-quality watches, at prices ranging from 4 to 7 figures per watch.

And new watch companies are springing up all the time, in Switzerland and elsewhere, some making cheap crap and others making very good watches, and some in between.

But not very many new pocket watches, which makes me sad. And most of the new pocket watches seem made for nostalgia, imitating old ones instead of trying to embrace being new, and that makes me sadder. As an extreme example: the new Omega pocket watches actually ARE old to a great degree: their movements were made in the 1930's. Recently someone found these 80-year-old watch movements in a warehouse, and Omega decided to refurbish them to make expensive nostalgic pocket watches. Make new watches which are proud of being new, I say, and don't insist that we wear all of them on our wrists! I can't be the only guy in the world who feels this way, although maybe I am.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Some American Essays Judged "Best"

In The Best American Essays 2004, In his essay "Against Cool," Rick Moody spends 32 pages making it absolutely clear that he doesn't even know what cool is. Not counting 2 pages of footnotes.

Moody begins his long essay by assuring the reader that he himself is not and has never been cool. But I don't think a person can judge his or her own level of coolness. One doesn't say, "I'm cool!" or "I'm not cool." One recognizes it outside of oneself, and says, "She's so cool!" or "Hey, man, that wasn't cool." In his song "Life's Been Good," Joe Walsh remarks, "Everybody's says I'm cool." But he gives the impression that he definitely considers the possibility that "everybody" says that to him just because he's a rock star. The whole thrust of the song is Walsh saying that he knows that he is lucky, that he doesn't claim that he has earned every penny he has by good old American hard work and grit, or by being a genius. He may be tremendously hardworking, and, at least in my opinion, he is a musical genius. But if the impression given by "Life's Been Good" is correct, he doesn't go around patting himself on the back for his success. He just gets on with it. Which is pretty cool.

What is cool? It's kindness, openness, quiet gentle awareness of whomever or whatever is beautiful or touching or edifying or otherwise cool in the moment.

In his Introduction to this 2004 volume of essays, guest editor Louis Menand says that an essay is good when the pain of not continuing to read it would outweigh the pain of continuing to read. It was around that point that I stopped reading Menand's Introduction. I found Moody's "Against Cool" quite painfully bad from its title to the very last word of its very last footnote. Moody says we should abandon the use of the term "cool" -- with the exception, I assume, of continuing to use it to describe ranges of temperature.

I think that's just not cool.

In The Best American Essays 1994, guest-edited by Tracy Kidder, Cynthia Ozick has an essay entitled "Rushdie in the Louvre," in which she, ostensibly, describes meeting Rushdie in the Louvre, after Rushdie has been elected a member of the Academie Universelle des Cultures. But only a handful of fragments of sentences spoken by Rushdie during that meeting held in the Louvre in his honor make their way into Ozick's essay, which has much more to do with the Louvre and terrorism and Henry James and Zola and Rushdie's security detail, which was extremely extensive at the time, than with Rushdie. I don't mean that all of those other subjects added together are given more space than Rushdie, but that each of them is given more space. I feel cheated by the title of Ozick's essay, which is pretty dull except when those few fragments of Rushdie's sentences light it up the way lightning lights up a dark cloudy sky.

Perhaps Ozick would have come up with a better essay if she'd concentrated on terrorism, given the essay a title such as "Terrorism," begun it with a short paragraph about how she met Rushdie at the Louvre, and then gotten on with the actual subject on her mind. At least then the reader wouldn't have been disappointed by an essay with a thoroughly misleading title.

By stark contrast, in the same 1994 volume of officially best American essays, Paul Theroux's "Chatwin Revisited" is actually above all about Bruce Chatwin, Theroux's deceased friend and fellow travel-writer, and it's actually quite good.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Suddenly Becoming Successful

No, I haven't suddenly become successful, but other writers have, and I'd like to, too. I'd like to experience a bit of fame and fortune before I die -- no, I'm not dying. My health is okay for my age. But my age is 55, so that if I do become famous, my obituaries will say that success arrived late in my life. Unless that guy at Cambridge, the one with the huge beard who says we can all live to be 1000 years old, is actually right, and the necessary breakthroughs are actually accomplished before I die, and I actually live to be 1000 years old.

I'd be okay with living to be 1000 years old.

Here's a nice sentence from an essay by Tennesse Williams, "Amor Perdida: Or, How it Feels to Become a Professional Playright," which I read just now:

"That's the nice thing about a language you don't understand -- it is possible to believe the conversation is so much more elevated than it probably is."

As soon as I read that sentence I liked it so much that I had decided to make it the new tagline for this blog -- with attribution, of course. I attribute whenever possible. But by the time I finished the essay, I had more to say about it. To summarize it and do great injustice to it, it's about when Tennessee was in Acapulco, and was about to go broke, something he had done many times and was very familiar with, and asked his friend, the owner of a cantina, for a job waiting tables, and then later that day received a telegram informing him that a play of his was going to be produced in New York. He described it as a moment when his old, poor life had ended, but his new, rich and famous life had not yet begun, and in which his earlier life, filled with many kinds of poverty in many different cities, flashed before his eyes. This happened when Tennessee was in his early 30's, an age which seems young to me now, at 55, but, I know, seems terribly old to someone who has very badly wanted to be a rich and famous writer since before he was full-grown.

I repeat, I've done great injustice to the essay. By all means, read the whole thing. It's just 6 pages long in The Best American Essays 2004, in which it appears because it was first published posthumously in the Michigan Quarterly Review in 2003. And it's magnificent.

Tennessee's friend the cantina owner seemed less certain than Tennessee that Tennessee's life had been changed forever. I suspect this may well have been because he knew much less than Tennessee did about the business of writing.

I wonder whether success in a writing career, if and when it comes, comes with a very unusual suddenness compared to success in other careers. I'm not sure about this, because I don't know very much about other sorts of careers. But I've been studying the nature of the writer's career for well over 40 years. Yes, success can come gradually, rung by tiny rung for decades, but it can also come in an instant, at least as far as what the writer is aware of: wondering where his or her next meal will come from, he or she is informed that his or her play will be produced on Broadway, or that several major publishers have gotten into a bidding war for his or her novel, or that he or she has been awarded a MacArthur genius grant or a Nobel Prize.

I would think that if you, for instance, owned and operated a cantina, although the potential for success might be vast, the ways in which one could go in an instant from rags to riches would be fewer, if not actually non-existent.

As I said, the best thing to do is to read "Amor Perdida," Williams' wonderful short essay, for yourself. But let me interfere just a little bit more and point out, in case you miss it, that "Amor Perdida" is the name of the song which was playing on the jukebox at the beginning of the essay, when Tennessee assumed that he needed a job such as waiting tables, and that he writes, "I believe" it is "the most beautiful of all musical compositions." Not "I believed."

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Ralph Waldo Emerson

So far, every line of Emerson's which I've read has been either banal or ridiculous or both. I have yet to become interested by Emerson; I first became interested in Emerson when I learned, a couple of decades ago, that William Gaddis was a fan. It happens sometimes: A writer I love loves a writer I hate. Hunter S Thompson had a great admiration for Ernest Hemingway. I do not feel obliged to learn why.

In my childhood and early adulthood I was surrounded by volumes of the Modern Library, and less so since then. Not that I have a low opinion of the Modern Library. But I did have to check to see whether it still existed. (It does.) This paperback volume before me, a Modern Library College Edition of The Complete Essays and Other Writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, is the fattest Modern Library volume I have ever seen. It has about 960 pages. That's more than the Modern Library hardcover edition of Ulysses. I must've gotten it at a thrift store. It begins with a Foreword by Tremaine McDowell, of whom I've never heard a thing. McDowell's Foreword begins: "Books, Emerson insisted more than a century ago, are for the student's idle hours; let him read only when he cannot think for himself." That would be a loathesome thing for a philistine businessman to say about his employees; for an author to say it about students is not profound, it's just ridiculous.

After McDowell's Foreword, this volume has an Introduction by Brooks Atkinson, whom I know by name and reputation, which begins, "Ralph Waldo Emerson was the first philosopher of the American spirit," and I don't want to read else by Brooks Atkinson, ever.

Avoiding Emerson is much more difficult. The stout Modern Library paperback before me contains as its penultimate piece the speech which Emerson delivered at the memorial service for Abraham Lincoln the 19th of April, 1865, in which he manages to insult Lincoln somewhat less than his good friend Nathanial Hawthorne had done in the piece which appeared in The Atlantic in 1862 and begins, "Of course, there was one other personage, in the class of statesman, whom I should have been truly mortified to leave Washington without seeing; since (temporarily, at least, and by force of circumstances) he was the man of men." Somewhat.

Both Hawthorne's piece and Emerson's tell me much more about Hawthorne and Emerson than about Lincoln. I much prefer Walt Whitman's piece, which, for one thing, strikes me as actually being about Abraham Lincoln, and not about the author:

I shall not easily forget the first time I ever saw Abraham Lincoln. It must have been about the 18th or 19th of February, 1861. It was a rather pleasant afternoon in New York City, as he arrived there from the West, to remain a few hours and then pass on to Washington to prepare for his inauguration. I saw him in Broadway, near the site of the present post office. He came down, I think from Canal Street, to stop at the Astor House.

The broad spaces, sidewalks, and street in that neighborhood and for some distance were crowded with solid masses of people — many thousands. The omnibuses and other vehicles had all been turned off, leaving an unusual hush in that busy part of the city. Presently two or three shabby hack barouches made their way with difficulty through the crowd and drew up at the Astor House entrance.

A tall figure stepped out of the center of these barouches, paused leisurely on the sidewalk, looked up at the granite walls and looming architecture of the grand old hotel — then, after a relieving stretch of arms and legs, turned around for over a minute to slowly and good-humoredly scan the appearance of the vast and silent crowds.

There were no speeches, no compliments, no welcome — as far as I could hear, not a word said. Still, much anxiety was concealed in that quiet. Cautious persons had feared some marked insult or indignity to the president-elect — for he possessed no personal popularity at all in New York City and very little political. But it was evidently tacitly agreed that if the few political supporters of Mr. Lincoln present would entirely abstain from any demonstration on their side, the immense majority — who were anything but supporters — would abstain on their side also. The result was a sulky, unbroken silence, such as certainly never before characterized a New York crowd.

From the top of an omnibus (driven up on side, close by, and blocked by the curbstone and the crowds) I had, I say, a capital view of it all and especially of Mr. Lincoln: his looks and gait; his perfect composure and coolness; his unusual and uncouth height; his dress of complete black, stovepipe hat pushed back on his head; dark-brown complexion; seamed and wrinkled yet canny-looking face; black, bush head of hair; disproportionately long neck; and his hands held behind, as he stood observing the people.

He looked with curiosity upon that immense sea of faces, and the sea of faces returned the look with similar curiosity. In both there was a dash of comedy, almost farce, such as Shakespeare puts in his blackest tragedies. The crowd that hemmed around consisted, I should think, of thirty to forty thousand men, not a single one his personal friend, while, I have no doubt (so frenzied were the ferments of the time) many an assassin’s knife and pistol lurked in hip- or breast-pocket there — ready, soon as break and riot came.

But no break or riot came. The tall figure gave another relieving stretch or two of arms and legs; then, with moderate pace, and accompanied by a few unknown-looking persons, ascended the portico steps of the Astor House, disappeared through its broad entrance — and the dumb-show ended.


Thursday, May 11, 2017

Cooper's Eyeroll At Conway Due To Sexism?

This was onscreen yesterday: Anderson Cooper looking as if he had enough of Kellyanne Conway's defense of Trump.


Conway then accused Cooper of rolling his eyes at her because of sexism.

No, Kellyanne, it's because of your nonstop nonsense in defense of your boss. It's in response to your relentless polishing of that turd.

Cooper, a sexist? That just makes all of us roll our eyes at you more -- much like almost everything else you've said in public since you started working for Trump.

Republicans are suddenly concerned about sexism? Wow. You want to strike a blow against sexism? Quit your job, and tell the public some true things about Trump. That would be a huge blow against sexism. It would also be a public admission about what a bullshitter you've been ever since July 1, 2016, the day you started working for Trump. But we all know that about you already. It's been really, really, really, really obvious. I think the vast majority of people would very quick to forgive you, if you just -- stopped.

Now, about you, Anderson. Can it be that your now-iconic eyeroll was a sign that you were about to -- express exactly what you were thinking and feeling, right there on the air? I'm a big supporter of Hunter S Thompson's position on objective journalism: that it doesn't exist. I think that you and most journalists make the horrible mistake of not telling your audiences what you know and how you feel about what you know, because it wouldn't be "objective." Well, don't worry about that, Anderson, because objectivity doesn't exist. Just let it rip, just as if the cameras weren't rolling.

I've been wondering whether things like your eyeroll, and headlines in the mainstream media coming closer and closer to just saying "Trump is a liar," are cracks in this useless "objectivity." I hope so. I hope you guys have finally had enough, so that you'll finally just react honestly to things like the Trump administration. Just as if the cameras weren't rolling. That would increase the amount of useful information you impart to your readers by several hundred percent. What are you waiting for: journalists being arrested for criticizing the country's political leadership, as has been happening unter Erdogan in Turkey -- Erdogan, for whom Trump is full of praise? Are you waiting for coast-to-coast martial law? Concentration camps? What? What are you waiting for?

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Some Say Today's Big Story Is Trump Firing Comey

I say the main story is the same as it's been every day since January 20: Trump is breaking the law, and, because there are Republican majorities in both the House and the Senate, nothing is being done about it.

If there had been Republican majorities in the Senate and House in 1973 and 1974, would people today land at Nixon International Airport in DC, and would the Watergate Hotel on Spirow Agnew Boulevard be famous mainly for its shrimp cocktail?

If Ossoff beats Handel by more than 20 points in the Georgia 6th district, will Congressional Republicans suddenly be shocked, shocked! to learn that there is gambling going on on this establishment?

Isn't MSNBC supposed to be a bunch of shills for the Democratic Party? I wish! Chuck Todd and Brian Williams seem to have a Hold-on. let's-not-rush-to-judge-the-President-harshly policy. They and their guests are bending over backwards not to suggest that it's ridiculous for Trump to claim to be firing Comey for being unfair to Hillary Clinton last fall over her emails.

"And I have to give the FBI credit. That was so bad what happened originally. And it took guts for Director Comey to make the move that he made in light of the kind of opposition he had where they’re trying to protect her from criminal prosecution. You know that. It took a lot of guts."

That was Trump campaigning with Comey's help back in October.

Remember October? When all the Republican Senators and Congresspeople were calling Trump a crook and a liar because they assumed he was going down in flames in the election?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Irish Police Investigate Old Boring Person For Blaspemy

I see headlines saying that Irish police have investigated Stephen Fry for blasphemy.

He's being investigated because a clergyman asked him on a TV show what he would say to God if, against all of his expectations, he were to find himself at the Pearly Gates, and he replied that he would say to God,

"How dare you create a world in which there is such misery? It’s not our fault. It’s not right. It’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid god who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain?"

If Fry were actually to end up going to prison for blasphemy, it will be a tragedy comparable to Oscar Wilde going to prison because some aristocrat was deflecting attention away from his poof of a son who'd had an affair with Wilde.

But he won't go to prison, assuming that this article by The Explainer is accurate. It says that the most that could happen to Fry is that he would be fined 25,000 Euros.

That would hardly be a tragedy for Fry personally, unless he's spent every cent he's ever made. He very likely makes 25,000 Euros a day, between all of his movies and TV shows and books, and he's been making enough money for long enough that 25,000 Euros is probably just a chuckle to him.

If it establishes a precedent and encourages Ireland to prosecute poor atheists, that's quite another story.

If this case causes Ireland to finally cease to prosecute blasphemy as a crime, that would be very good.

If Fry somehow engineered all of this so that there would be a huge amount of publicity around a blasphemy trial, causing Ireland to finally stop persecuting blasphemy as a crime, then that was brilliant. I don't think that's what Fry did, but if it is, then major congratulations are in order.

Now: it's getting harder and harder to remember all the way back to when Fry wasn't completely tedious. So Fry's mad at God? I'm not mad at God. You know why? BECAUSE GOD DOESN'T EXIST! I accuse Fry and all the rest of the New Atheists of atheisting improperly, of giving atheism a bad name and making the general public think that all atheists are horrible and boring. It's gotten so bad that many atheists are denying that they're atheists, calling themselves skeptics or nonbelievers or some other thing which means exactly the same as atheists, just because they don't want to be associated with Dawkins and Fry and Harris and Ricky Gervais and the rest of those idiots and bores.

But I would never want to see anyone be convicted of a crime just because they were boring.

Not even if they were as boring as that quote above by Fry, or as boring as Gervais' movie The Invention of Lying.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Yes, Macron Won

And that's great. But voter turnout was lower than at any French Presidential election since 1995. A quarter of the French electorate sat it out. Which means that a quarter of the French electorate can't tell the difference between Macron and Le Pen. Someone's been handing them a line of crap and they've been taking it. They can't tell their croissants from holes in the ground.

Yes, this is a great victory for France and the world. A great day for sanity. But we got lucky. We skated by, with that many people abstaining. Education has a lot of work to do, when that many people in France vote for freakin Le Pen, and about as many more don't vote against her. Yes, it's great. It should be sobering, too.

Friday, May 5, 2017

You Foolish Person!

(Why am I writing this in the 3rd person when it's so obviously about me?)

You don't need that item. You've already got one which is just as good, and in some important ways probably a lot better.

But you want that other one.

You want it really bad. And the Internet knows you want it, and is following you around with advertisements for it. (It's no mystery how the Internet knows: you keep clicking on ads for the item, and you haven't undergone any radical cookie-blocking program. You're not mad at the Internet. On the contrary, you wanted to keep seeing those ads.)

But you're not exactly made of money. This would be, for you, a substantial expense. You keep telling yourself just to work harder, try to make some money, and forget about that item, at least forget about it until you're rich. When you're rich you'll be able to buy 5 of them, or 10. You'll be able to buy one for everybody you know, and maybe 1 or 2 of them will actually also think that it's really cool, and then you and them will have something to talk about, and wouldn't that be excellent.

Yes, it would. But you're not great at making money. If you were you would've been rich a long time ago, cause you really want to be rich.

Ahhhh, the temptation, to just click, click, click and buy it! Oh, what folly! Put it out of your mind!

You look at the one you have. Did I say probably in some ways it's a lot better than this other one you want? It's not probably, it's definitely. The one you have is excellent. How can you be so unappreciative of it as to think that you need this other one?!

But of course none of this has anything to do with thinking. It has to do with feeling, with wanting, with passion --

With madness! This is madness! Stop it! You're not crazy!

Well, maybe you are. You just did it. Click, click, click, you bought the son of a bitch. And one moment later you felt horrible about it.

And now, not many moments later than that, you feel great. You're NOT crazy. You're pretty frickin' stable, actually. This will not ruin your life. If you tried to do something like this every day, sure, or even twice a week, then your life would be turned upside down pretty quickly. But you don't do this sort of thing at all often. And there's such a thing as being too stable and walking around like a clenched... fist, and dying young of a stroke, bitter, because you never had any fun. And you only have one life, and this "madness," this purchase which the extremely-stable side of you called crazy just now, will add some freakin' joy to what is left of your life.

So enjoy it.

I just want to say one more thing: I've always thought that "Hot Hot Hot" by Buster Poindexter is a thoroughly excellent, underrated record. People laugh at it all the time, treat the record as a punchline -- they're fools. (And it fits in with the theme of this post: enjoy your life every now and then instead of always walking around like a clenched... fist. And all of the above goes for "Disco Inferno," too!)





Thursday, May 4, 2017

All You Need Is Money And Love

It just now popped into my head: A medly and/or mashup of John Lennon sing "Money" and "All You Need is Love."

All you need is love
I want money
Love, love, love
You can give it to the birds and bees
There's nothing you can do that can't be done
Give me your money
It's easy
Whoa! All your money!
Love, love, love
But your lovin' don't pay my bills
Nothing you can do but you can learn how to be you in time
Now give me money
Nowhere you can be that isn't where you're meant to be
Now give me money
It's easy


Apparently it's very easy to slip your mind how important money is, if you have lots and lots of it, and John certainly did when he wrote "All You Need is Love." Much, much more than he had when he recorded "Money."

If you have lots and lots of money, it may well be that the only thing more which you urgently need is love.

This ain't rocket science. It's amazing how often people who are where John Lennon was in 1967 forget what he knew in 1963.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Bar Jokes

Horse walks into a bar, bartender sez, I keep telling the owner that front door is too big.

Horse walks into a bar, bartender asks, Why the long face?

Guy walks into a bar and orders a fruit punch. Bartender sez, "Pal, if you want a punch you'll have to stand in line." Guy looks around, there's no punch line.

Guy walks into a bar, bartender asks, "Why the long face?" Guy sez, "I just found out my wife is sleeping with another man. I've decided I'm going to drink myself to death." Bartender sez, "Sorry, I'm not going to help you kill yourself." Guy asks, "Well, what would you do in my situation?" Bartender thinks for a minute, sez, "I found out a guy was sleeping with my wife, I wouldn't sit around feeling sorry for myself, I'd kill the guy." Guy yells, "That's a great idea! Thanks!" and runs out of the bar. A couple hours go by, the bartender starts to get nervous. The guy walks back into the bar. Big smile on his face. Bartender asks, "You kill the guy?" Guy sez, "No, I slept with yr wife! Gimme a goddam drink!"

Guy pulls up to a gas station, attendant notices there are 5 penguins in the back seat. Attendant says, "You have 5 penguins in your back seat!" "I KNOW!" the driver says, "They jumped in at the light, I don't know what I should do with them." Attendant thinks for a second and says, "Tell you what I'd do, I'd take 'em to the zoo." Driver sez, "That's a great idea!" Week later, same driver pulls in with the same 5 penguins, only now they're wearing sunglasses. Attendant sez, "I thought you were gonna take those penguins to the zoo." Guy sez, "I did. Thanks for the suggestion, we had a great time. Today we're going to the beach."

Some Texans are standing at a bar when an Englishman walks in. “Howdy, stranger,” sez one of the Texans. “Where you from?” The Englishman sez, “I come from a place where we do not end our sentences in prepositions.” Texan sez, “ Oh, pardon me! Where you from, jackass?

Amnesiac walks into a bar, goes up to a beautiful woman and asks her, “Do I come here often?”

Penguin walks into a bar, asks the bartender, “You seen my brother?” Bartender sez, “I dunno, what's he look like?”

Dyslexic guy walks into a bra.

Pair of jumper cables walk into a bar and ask for a drink, bartender sez, “Okay, but I don’t want you starting anything in here.”

2 nuns, a penguin, a man with a parrot on his shoulder and a giraffe walk into a bar, bartender sez, “What is this, some kind of joke?”

Duck walks into a bar, asks the bartender, "Got any grapes?" bartender sez, "No, we only sell beer here". Duck leaves, comes back the next day, asks the bartender, "Got any grapes"? Bartender sez, "I told you we only sell beer. You ask me again, I’m gonna nail your bill to the bar!” Duck leaves, comes back the next day, asks the bartender “Got any nails?" Bartender says no, Duck asks, “Got any grapes"?

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Left In The US Handed The Presidency To A Fascist. Will The French Left Do The Same?

In the US Presidential election, 3 candidates stood out above all others in popularity: Clinton, Trump and Sanders. Very early on, it began clear that the election would be Clinton versus Trump. But, for months after it was clear that he was beaten, Sanders continued to campaign. He said, over and over and over, that his #1 priority was to ensure that Trump was not elected President. But there was one way, one way only, to ensure that, and that was to support Clinton, to do it as early and as enthusiastically as possible, therefore ensure that the greatest possible number of his supporters voted for Hillary. Not only did Sanders continue a farcical campaign for moths after he had lost; when he did finally endorse Hillary, he did it very feebly. Saying that she was not as bad a Trump: that's not a great endorsement. Continuing to talk mostly about himself and his unsuccessful campaign: that wasn't endorsing Hillary at all.

And so, in the election which Trump barely won, with Hillary receiving 3 million more votes than Trump, about 1 million voters wrote in Bernie. And about 100 million people who were eligible to vote, didn't. How many of those 100 million were Bernie supporters who picked up his bitterness against Hillary and lack of enthusiasm for her? We'll probably never know. Anyway, in case it wasn't already entirely clear to you, I blame Bernie Sanders, that egotistical, selfish jackass, for Trump being elected.

And the reason I'm writing about this again today is that something very similar might happen in the French Presidential election, which will be decided this Saturday and Sunday: a fascist could become President in France because of pettiness and sheer stupidity on the Left. The decision will come down to Emmanuel Macron, a centrist with severe charisma deficiencies who led the first round of voting with 24%, against Marine Le Pen, the aforementioned fascist, who got 21.3% in the first round.

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who got 19.6% in the first round, claims that his top priority is to defeat the fascist Le Pen. Well, there's one thing he can do now to defeat Le Pen: endorse Macron. But Mélenchon says he will not endorse Macron. Mélenchon is either outright lying when he says he will do everything in his power to defeat Le Pen, or he's simply to stupid to see that to ensure that Le Pen is defeated, he must endorse Macron.

A poll of those who voted for Mélenchon in the first round showed that 40% intend to vote for Macron, 15% for Le Pen, and 45% intend not to vote.

Let's just leave those 15% aside, they're obviously hopelessly confused.

Let's look at the 45% who intend not to vote. Those are about 9% of the French electorate which Mélenchon could be urging, begging, pleading to vote for Macron, but he's either to stupid or to petty to do so, and so he's not doing everything he can to defeat Le Pen, not by miles and miles.

Remind you a whole lot of Bernie Sanders? It should.

This is one of those things which make me feel very helpless, because I don't know how to urge people to behave sensibly, not because the issue is complicated and difficult, but because it is so simple and clear that I can't understand how people are not understanding it.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Stubbornness

There's good stubbornness: the kind that makes a person work and work and work until he or she achieves great things.

And then there's the kind of stubbornness that's just stupid, where people who know give you sound advice and you just don't take it.

People often talk about intelligence as if an intelligent person is intelligent pretty much all the time. Is this accurate? If so, them I and my brother are unusual.

My brother is very, very intelligent. No really, he is. He's a rocket scientist. And I don't mean that as a mere figure of speech -- he has worked at Martin Marietta and TRW designing things which went into space. He's a mechanical engineer with 2 degrees from MIT. After the rockets, he switched to something he enjoys more: designing cars. Several Camero and Corvette desginers are part my little brother. At the present time he supervises other engineers. There's no doubt that my little brother has a very large brain.

And yet, sometimes there's that bad kind of stubbornness. Once, he owned a Jeep and was driving it over some dunes on the shore of a lake for fun. He hadn't driven on dunes very much at all. Several times during the course of 1 morning, actual experts in dune driving, people who'd been doing it all their lives, told him he had way too much air in his tires and was liable to break something if he didn't let about half of the air out. He good-naturedly dismissed all of this advice, and that afternoon, out on the dunes with tire pressure which right for paved roads and wrong for the dunes, he snapped one of Jeep's axles.

Why hadn't he taken the experts' advice and let half of the air out of those tires as they had urged him to do? I don't know any good answer to that.

Like my brother, I am extremely intelligent. Just look around this blog: I'm awesome. And yet -- for the last year or so I've been the same way with the stupid stubbornness. Is this genetic? Are a lot of wicked smart people really stupid a lot of time, or what? Is my behavior typical for old people with new technology, even if the old people are smart?

I've had my Galaxy 6 for about a year and loved it, but whenever it prompted me to hook it up to wifi, I said to myself: No, better not do that.

Why?

I don't know any good answer to that question. Same as with my brother and the tire pressure.

But today, I thought about the tires and axle of my brother's Jeep, and more to the point, I thought about all the times I had had to go outside during a phone call on the Galaxy because the connection kept breaking it up, and wondered whether there just might be some connection to my refusal to take the recommendations about the wifi.

I hooked up the wifi and sure enough: the call quality on my phone improved tremendously. Call quality had been my only big complaint about the Galaxy, and it's fixed because I did something the phone kept suggesting I do -- for a year. I suppose with my earlier smart phones somebody in Customer Service had done this for me.

Hopefully we've all learned something here, and are headed for a brighter tomorrow -- a tomorrow during which our huge brains will be in use more often.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Warren "Troubled" By Obama's $400k Speaking Fee

Ah, Geez, Elizabeth too? I expected Bernie to have a problem with it, but I thought Elizabeth was smart enough not to be bothered unless and until there was some shred of evidence that Barack had actually compromised himself. When Hillary was asked why she took nearly $1 million from Lehman Bros, she nailed it: "That was how much they offered." Elizabeth, Barack, Hillary and I and every other Democrat, as far as I know, wants to overturn Citizen's United. But until that happens, there's no reason for us to shoot ourselves in the foot or penalize ourselves because we'd rather be pure than defeat Republicans.

Another example of what I'm talking about occurs to me: A lot of people criticized George Bernard Shaw for portraying the Salvation Army -- pacifists -- taking a cash donation from a billionaire arms dealer in his play Major Barbara.

You know who wasn't upset by it? Actual members of the Salvation Army. One of them put it this way: if an arms dealer wanted to give them money, they'd be more than happy to get it out of the Devil's hands and into the Lord's. He mentioned also that the Salvation Army -- teetotalers -- often had meetings inside bars and accepted donations there. He didn't seem in the slightest bothered by suggestions that the Salvation Army compromised itself in such ways.

Anyway: Elizabeth, I'm sure you've heard of George Bernard Shaw. I don't know whether you've seen or read Major Barbara. Shaw's Preface to the play is awfully good, as his Prefaces tend to be -- better than the plays themselves for me, although I suppose for most people the plays are crucial. The plays aren't bad, but the Prefaces are brilliant. It is in the Preface to Major Barbara that I heard about people objecting to Shaw's depiction of the Salvation Army, and the much more sensible reaction of the Salvation Army itself.

Hillary and Barack haven't sold themselves. How about waiting for evidence that something is actually wrong before becoming "concerned"?

Deutsche Politik

Einer -- also einer von der SPD -- plaedierte gegen die "Gross-Koalitionitis," fuer "klare Rede und Gegenrede," gab der Bereitschaft zur Grossen Koalition ein Teil des Schulds an den Aufsteig des Populismus.

Hm, ja, aber... Zum ersten: Populisten sind einfach dumm wir Holz, und das ist weder der SPD noch der CDU/CSU Schuld. Man sollte nicht uebereifrig ein, sich selbst mit Schuld zu beladen der einem nicht gehoert. Zweitens heisst Politik das Machbare machen, und das Machbare ist oft viel schlimmer als man sich wuneschen haette aber viel besser als wenn man nichts gemacht hat weil man fuer die Realitaet einfach zu pur ist. Als die SPD Hindenberg Dez 1932 Hindenberg waehlte, war das Politik, richtig gemacht, und wenn Hitler ein Monat spaeter trotzdem Kanzler wurde, war das nicht der SPD Schuld.

Niemand in 1932 oder 19333 oder seitdem hatte den Eindruck, dass die SPD ploetzlich Hindenberg waehlte weil sie poletzlich Hindenberg liebte.

Also, mir schient, dass klare Rede auch in einer Grosse Koalition moeglich sein sollte. "Magst Du ploetzlich die Union?" "Natuerlich nicht!" "Aber Du arbeitest neben ihr in einer Grossen Koalition!" "Ja, weil dies mir lieber ist, als andere Parteien neben der Union arbeiten zu lassen! Es ist Politik! Oft stink es, aber die Alternativ haette noch viel schlimmer gestunken!"

Monday, April 24, 2017

10 Ways Jerry Maguire Could've Been A Better Movie

1) As it is Cameron Crowe wrote and directed it and was one of 4 producers. They could've fired Crowe before shooting started, gotten Robert Towne and some other rewrite experts in there and completely re-written the whole thing; or better yet, just used an entirely different script altogether. For Jesus' sake, don't make every character sound like Cameron Crowe!

2) It could have been Avery (Kelly Preston), Jerry's finacee briefly at the start of the movie, who had the nervous breakdown and then the "vision" about sports agents being... something, instead of what they are. Avery could've broken up with Jerry (in the film it's the other way around), joined the agency, then quit very soon. Jerry could remain an agent like agents are in real life, and the film could be a realistic portrayal of a sports management company, neither idealizing nor unrealistically condemning the industry, with occasional shots of Avery on her Crusading quest as comic relief.

2a) This raises the interesting question of whether Dorothy (Renée Zellweger), who in the film leaves the management company with Jerry and later develops a romantic relationship with him, will leave with Avery, and still eventually develop that relationship with Jerry. This would give Dorothy's character much more to do than in the film as is, where pretty much all she does is wait around for Jerry to sweep her further off of her feet.

3) The scene where Rod (Cuba Gooding Jr), an NFL wide receiver and the only one of Jerry's clients who leaves the company with him, gets up on his feet after an apparent injury in a "Monday Night Football" game, and dances all over the place in front of a wildly cheering crowd, proving that he finally understands what Jerry (or Avery in the alternate version) has been telling him all along? No. Just no.

4) Get that guitar away from Frank "Cush" Cushman (Jerry O'Connell), another one of Jerry's clients, who wavers for a while but decides to stay at the agency instead of staying with Jerry, and keep it far away from him as long as the cameras are rolling.

5) Include a long angry rant by someone directly into the face of Jerry or Avery or whoever it is who has written that manifesto about "quality" in sports management. The angry rant is about how the job of a sports agent is not about "quality," but quantity: the number of dollars, Euros, pounds, Yen or what have you, which the client receives. The angry ranter could point out that if the manifesto writer is really interested in quality, there are a lot of volunteer positions open in the world's disaster zones. The ranter will definitely denounce American collegiate athletics as possibly the most monumental and shameless rip-off of athletes in the history of the world so far. You could give that rant to Sugar (Jay Mohr), Jerry's protégé who stays at the firm, is selected by management to fire Jerry, and systematically takes all of Jerry's clients except Rod. The rant would give Sugar's character more complexity, making him less of a one-dimensional weasel. (Of course, this and a lot of my other suggestions assume that you agree with me that Jerry's manifesto is ridiculous. If you agree, then you've just about got to take suggestion 1 at the least.)

6) Jerry's relationship with Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki), Dorothy's son, would be much more interesting if Ray started out hating Jerry. Give Jerry's character more work to do. Or,

6a) Eliminate Ray and a few other characters. There are too many characters all trying to be special for one movie. Pick yr battles.

7) Another long angry rant, this one about the stupidity, hypocrisy, brutality and infantilism of sports, and about how athletes, coaches, sports journalists, team owners, cheerleaders, super-fans, etc, etc, are generally every bit as empty and horrible as agents, although agents are much less likely to be revered, for some reason. This rant could also be delivered by Sugar, or someone else.

8) NO BONNIE HUNT! If you don't eliminate the character (Laurel, Dorothy's sister), then at least re-cast the role. It's interesting: I was just on Roger Ebert's website, researching, trying to comprehend just why so many people mistakenly think this movie is any good. Ebert called Hunt "almost always a delight to watch." I've never been the slightest bit delighted to watch Bonnie Hunt, and I'm right and Ebert was wrong.

9) In the movie as is, Jerry and Rod supposedly both become much more deep and less concerned about money; and as a result of this, of course, they end up striking it rich. Shit or get off of the pot; either stop preaching against a concern with money (or keep that nonsensical preaching in the mouths of comic relief like Avery if it's Avery who has the breakdown, writes the manifesto and strikes off on her own), or show the characters actually having to live on much less money, but still being happier. For instance, maybe Rod has a career-ending injury before he gets that big payday; and then later we see him as a high-school football coach, or maybe in some other modestly-paying job: and he's happier. (My feeling is that more money definitely will make you happier, and will until we pivot to that Gene Roddenberry-style post-economic world; and that anyone who tells you different is either poor and in denial, or rich and so emotionally fucked-up that not even money helped.)

10) Let Jerry and Dorothy be much more flawed. Because people are deeply flawed. Always. Cuba Gooding was in a very good movie about the same time he was in Jerry Maguire: James L Brooks' As Good As It Gets, a film in which characters have horrible personal problems, and don't solve those horrible problems, but still achieve some significant triumphs and improve thier lives. In other words: A realistic cheesy mainstream feel-good movie about rich white people.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jerry Maguire Is The Worst Movie I've Ever Seen

Jerry Maguire is the stupidest movie I've ever seen, so show me the money because you had me at "Hello."

You complete me. If this is empty, this doesn't matter. I love him for the man he wants to be. And I love him for the man he almost is. Success consists of simply getting up one more time than you fall. I am out here for you. You don't know what it's like to be ME out here for YOU. It is an up-at-dawn, pride-swallowing siege that I will never fully tell you about, okay? Did you know that the human head weighs 8 pounds? Did you know that Troy Aikman, in only six years, has passed for 16,303 yards? D'you know that bees and dogs can smell fear? Did you know that the career record for hits is 4,256 by Pete Rose who is NOT in the Hall of Fame? D'you know that my next door neighbor has three rabbits? I... I can't compete with that! Hey, I don't have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded. But I love my wife. I love my life. And I wish you my kind of success. What do you want from mw? My soul? Why not? I deserve that much.

But if anybody else wants to come with me, this moment will be the ground floor of something real and fun and inspiring and true in this godforsaken business and we will do it together! Who's coming with me besides... "Flipper" here?

I'm fucked. Twenty-four hours ago, man, I was hot! Now... I'm a cautionary tale. You see this jacket I'm wearing, you like it? Because I don't really need it. Because I'm cloaked in failure! I lost the number one draft picked the night before the draft! Why? Let's recap: Because a hockey player's kid made me feel like a superficial jerk. I ate two slices of bad pizza, went to bed and grew a conscience! Have you ever gotten the feeling that you aren't completely embarassed yet, but you glimpse tomorrow's embarrassment? This is going to change everything. Promise? How about a little piece of integrity in this world that is so full of greed and a lack of honorability that I don't know what to tell my son! Except, "Here. Have a look at a guy who isn't yelling 'Show me the money." Did you know he's broke? He is broke and working for you for free! Broke. Broke, broke, broke. I'm sorry I'm just not as good at the insults as she is.

A positive anything is better than a negative nothing. Anyone else would have left you by now, but I'm sticking with you. And if I have to ride your ass like Zorro, you're gonna show me the money. You are hanging on by a very thin thread and I dig that about you! Maybe love shouldn't be such hard work. Jump in my nightmare, the water's warm! I won't let you get rid of me. On the surface, everything seems fine. I've got this great guy. And he loves my kid. And he sure does like me a lot. And I can't live like that. It's not the way I'm built. I got a shelf life of ten years, tops. My next contract's gotta bring me the dollars that'll last me and mine a long time. Shit, I'm out of this sport in 5 years. What's my family gonna live on? Huh? There is a sensitivity thing that some people have. I don't have it. I don't cry at movies, I don't gush over babies, I don't buy Christmas presents 5 months early, and I DON'T tell the guy who just ruined both our lives, "Oh, poor baby." But I do love you. Dorothy, this is not a guy. It's a syndrome. Early mid-life. Hanging on to the bottom rung. "Dear God, don't let me be alone or I call my newly-long-suffering-assistant-without-medical for company settlement." If now all you still want is him to come over, I'm not saying anything. I'll tell you why you don't have your ten million dollars. Because right now, you are a paycheck player, you play with your head and not your heart, your personal life is all heart but when you get on the field, it's all about what you didn't get, who's to blame, who under threw the pass, who's got the contracts you don't, who's not giving you your love. That's not what inspires people. Just shut up and play the game with your heart. America still sets the tone for the world of sports, in Indiana I signed Clark Hodd, he's only thirteen years old and is considered the best point guard in the country and last week he scored a hundred points in a single game. I also signed Erica Sorgi, you'll see her in the next Olympics. In Seattle I signed Dallas Malloy, she's sixteen years old and her lawsuit helped paved the way for women boxers everywhere, whenever she fights she thinks about her ex-boyfriend. In Indio, California I signed Art Stallings. He plays the sport with what pure joy. In Odessa, Texas I signed the great Frank Cushman. This April twenty six teams will be falling all over themselves in order to sign him in the next NFL draft. He's my client, my most important client, believe me there's genius everywhere but until they turn pro it's like popcorn in the pan: some pop, some don't. I'm the guy you don't usually see. I'm the one behind the scenes. I'm the sports agent, you know those photos where the new player holds the team jersey and poses with the owner? Inside that building, that's where I work: S.M.I., Sports Management International, thirty three out of shape agents, guiding the careers of one thousand five hundred eighty five of the most finely tuned athletes alive. I handle the lives and dreams of seventy two clients and I get an average of two hundred sixty four phone calls a day, that's what I do, this is what I do best, but I'll be honest with you. I started noticing a few years ago and I didn't say a word but the quest for the big dollars and a lot of the little things were going wrong, but lately, it's gotten worse. Who did I become? Just another shark in a suit? Two days later at our corporate conference in Miami a breakthrough, a breakdown? No a breakthrough. I had so much to say and no one to listen and then it happened: an unexpected thing: I began writing what they call a "mission statement." Not a memo, a "mission statement." A suggestion for the future of our company a night like this doesn't come around very often. I seized it. What started out as one page slowly became twenty five, suddenly, I was my father's son again I was remembering the simple pleasures of this job: how I ended up here out of law school, the way a stadium sounds when one of my players performs well on the field the way we are meant to protect them in health and in injury. With so many clients we've forgotten what's important. I wrote, and wrote and wrote and I'm not even a writer. I was even remembering the original words of my mentor the late great Dicky Fox. Suddenly it was all clear: the answer was fewer clients and less money, giving more attention to them, caring for them, caring for ourselves. I'll be the first to admit it: what I was writing was somewhat "touchy feely." I didn't care. I had lost the ability to bullshit, it was the me I always wanted to be. I put the mission statement into a bag and took it to a copymat in the middle of the night, printed a hundred and ten copies. Even the cover looked like The Catcher in the Rye. I entitled it: The Things We Think And Do Not Say, The Future of Our Business.


Like I said: the stupidest. The worst. (I still haven't completely forgiven Cuba Gooding. Not for "Show me the money!" That's what an agent is for. It's the only thing an agent is for. What upsets me is that Gooding's character eventually falls for Maguire's nonsense about there being more to it than that.) Then again, it's the only Cameron Crowe movie I've watched all the way through.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Osoff Wins 1st Round Of GA 6th Dist Special Election

1st: Congratulations, Mr Osoff! 2nd: To those who are already celebrating what they regard as Osoff's sure-thing victory in the June run-off, please take a lesson from last November and TAKE. NO. THING. FOR. GRAN. TED!!! Remember, on November 7 most people assumed Hillary would win. And if Osoff is headed for a big win in June, there's no harm in making it bigger. Every vote counts.

I have been wondering whether Trump is actually helping Osoff win with things like the insane tweets. Trump was tweeting away running up to the Nov 8 election, and he carried the 6th District by... 1.5 percent. Representative Tom Price (now Trump's Sec of HHS) was re-elected by a margin of... 24 percent. Things like that, and the fact that the Democratic Osoff almost won in the 1st round with 48 percent in a district which has been solidly Republican ever since Newt Gingrich won his 1st term there in 1978, and that Republican Karen Handel, who will be Osoff's opponent in the run-off in June, was 2nd with 20 percent, and Trump's approval rating, and other things, have made it seem like this election is above all about Trump, and that the more involved Trump becomes, the better Osoff's chances.

But let's take nothing for granted. When it seems like we're ahead in a race, we should run harder. It has always seemed, to rational people, that Trump's tweets could only disgust people and help his political opponents. Then we found out that at least 62.9 million American voters are profoundly irrational. All through this friggin nightmare since 2015, we would-be political wizards have been making statements beginning with words like "It would make sense if[...]," stubbornly resisting the insight that, with Trump in the mix, things keep happening which make no sense whatsoever.

As a matter of fact, that's exactly how you could describe a Democrat getting 48% in the 1st round of a special election for Georgia's 6th Congressional District: it's something which makes no sense. It's something no one would've predicted 2 years ago.

So, yes, be happy about yesterday's result in Georgia's 6th District. Just don't let up.