Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Pontiac Aztek's Looks, And its Sales

Over on another part of the Internet right now, they're gathering to make fun of the Pontiac Aztek. (Perhaps, if you don't know what an Aztek is, you remember the unusual-looking SUV driven by Walter White in "Breaking Bad." That was an Aztek.) Someone over there claims that the Aztek is a thoroughly mediocre SUV, and that if it functioned better, its looks would've been accepted and it would have been a commercial success.

I'm not a car guy. I'm not competent to respond to the accusation that the Aztek's performance is mediocre. (Although the place where this discussion is taking place, the comments section under a story about how used Azteks [none were made after 2005] are currently prized by Colorado off-roaders, makes me think that its performance couldn't be all that awful.)

However, my brother is not only a car guy -- he was one of the engineers at GM who created the Aztek, and so I happen to know a couple of things which maybe most people don't know:

The Buick Rendezvous was quickly put together after it was clear that the Aztek was not selling nearly as well as GM had hoped. The Rendezvous is essentially an Aztek with some minor changes in sheet metal and interior. However well or poorly the Aztek performs as an SUV, the Rendezvous performs the same. And about 4 times as many Rendezvous were sold.

Sorry if that makes some proud Rendezvous owners feel icky. It's true though. It's also true that my Saturn Ion has exactly the same chassis as a whole bunch of other GM cars made over the course of several decades.

I myself have always liked the Aztek's styling. This is one of many, many indications that I am not the guy to go to to learn how the general public will like something. I had seen pictures of Azteks before they were on sale to the public. I don't know if I would've noticed those picture if I hadn't known that my brother was one of the engineers on the Aztek project. The first time I saw one irl life, my brother was driving us on a multi-lane highway to or from the Detroit airport. It zoomed past, standing out from the surrounding traffic in 2001 much more than it would have in 2017. I said wow, and that I thought it looked really great. My brother answered grouchily that I and the man who'd created the exterior design were the only ones, and that the edgy styling had led to a sales disaster.

A couple of years years after that, my brother was driving again, and we passed a GM dealership whose lot was absolutely crammed with Azteks. I remarked that the huge number of Azteks in that lot must mean that it was selling well after all. My brother informed me that it meant exactly the opposite: GM couldn't unload the Azteks they had already made and they were piling up in lots all over the place, destined for huge price cuts. That's when he told me that the Rendezvous was an Aztek with a face-lift and that it was outselling the Aztek 4 to 1.

The pain of knowledge...

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Turning and Turning in the Widening Gibberish

The late Professor GA Wells, at the beginning of his paper "The Historicity of Jesus," published in 1986 in the collection Jesus in History and Myth (ed by Hoffmann and Larue), notes that the question of whether or not Jesus existed was hotly debated early in the 20th century, and that those who were less than certain that Jesus existed -- a position now referred to as "mythicism" -- made mistakes in 3 major areas: 1) They over-emphasized similarities between the biography of Jesus and those of pagan gods; 2) they were overly ready to disregard as interpolations any passages in primary materials which were inconvenient to their arguments; and 3) they often badly erred in dating those primary texts. Besides these 3 classes of errors, the tone of the debate was regrettably polemical and lacking in the sober detachment necessary for productive scholarly inquiry of any sort. Because the mythicists argued their case badly, Biblical scholars concluded that it was certain that Jesus had existed.

And it's all happening again in the early 21st century: people who have doubts about Jesus' historicity are making the same kinds of mistakes, and the tone of the debate is usually deplorable, and Biblical scholars -- although, now just as 100 years ago, their tone often isn't any more dignified or productive than anyone else's -- are pointing to the mythicists' poor performance as proving that Jesus actually did exist.

I find it flabbergasting that so many people, including so many highly-trained experts, are (for at least the 2nd time around now) taking the fact that one side of a question is being ineptly arguing as proving the other side. If detectives investigating a crime listen to a raving fool who has one theory of the crime, do they conclude, because the man is a raving fool, that the case has been solved, and that the solution is the opposite of whatever the raving fool said? I certainly hope not. I would hope they would, instead, take a position such as that the statement of the raving fool, by itself, proved little or nothing about the case one way or the other, and continue to investigate.

Except that, carrying the analogy back from police work to New Testament studies, I still maintain that serious investigation of the question by the experts must begin before it can continue. Although the experts maintain that the issue has been thoroughly investigated, I still can't see where that investigation is, or when it was, let alone whatever it is which makes them all so convinced that the investigation is complete.

If you google bollinger paulkovich you will find many references, in news articles, blogs, discussions and what have you, to the particularly, spectacularly inept mythicist Michael Paulkovich, and to 2 of my blog posts about his ineptitude, the Open Letter, my first reaction to hearing that Paulkovich had claimed to have studied the work of 126 ancient authors looking for mentions of Jesus, and 126 Writers, written the next day when I had found the list of those 126 people. Most of these mentions refer to me as "atheist blogger Steven Bollinger," which is an accurate description: I am an atheist and I am a blogger. Occasionally some of these people -- including Paulkovich himself -- refer to me as a Christian, assuming, apparently, that only a Christian could have any criticism of any expressing any doubts that Jesus existed. Quite often, I'm referred to as supporting the historicist position, the position that Jesus certainly existed, which is also erroneous: I'm a mythicist, I'm far from convinced that Jesus existed.

But why should that mean that I think that everything said by everyone else who isn't convinced that Jesus existed is pure flawless genius?

Obviously it means nothing of the sort, unless you're a moron, or not paying attention, or both.

There are a lot of people out there spending a lot of time debating whether or not Jesus existed who are either morons, or not paying a lot of attention to the things they're spending so much time debating, or both. Even those references to me as "atheist blogger Steven Bollinger," although accurate, imply that it's amazing that any atheist would go to the trouble of criticizing a mythicist.

And look, I myself deplore harsh polemical tone, only to indulge in it just a few short paragraphs later. Except that I am not taking that tone in the conventional manner, which would be to use it only against those on the other side of the mythicist/historicist divide -- no, I'm potentially prepared to sneer at almost anyone who says anything at all about Jesus, whether skeptical or credulous. (The late Professor Wells still gets a pass -- for now. And it must be pointed out that he converted from mythicist to historicist, although his historicism remained so minimal that many of his readers and fans never noticed it.) It seems that most of the people debating Jesus's existence are not detached at all: they want the side they're arguing to turn out to be correct. Not so much with actually confronting the evidence with open minds, as if they were -- you know: scholars or something. I would feel great satisfaction if the question were ever definitively resolved one way or the other: I would feel great schadenfreude, directed at either one side, or the other.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Don Lemon on Trump's Speech in Phoenix

It's a few months into the future. Trump has nuked the world back into the Stone Age. (This is a very optimistic post, because, as Carl Sagan told us all decades ago, any nuclear war will likely result, not in the Stone Age, but in the eradication of all life on Earth: people, cockroaches, bacteria, viruses, everything.)

A few former journalists are sitting around in front of their cave after the day's unsuccessful search for food. There are no journalists anymore, only former journalists, because there is no television, radio, Internet, newspapers or magazines. There is no time right now to even think about trying to start to re-create such things, because the few surviving people are much too busy doing things like looking for food and trying to make weapons out of sticks and rocks before they're eaten by the few surviving man-eating carnivores.

These former journalists are proud. Hungry at the moment, but proud, because they never violated their sacred principles of "objective journalism" by warning their viewers and readers that Trump would most likely kill most or all of them if given the chance. Off the air, off the record, not in print, amongst themselves, they were pretty sure that Trump would end civilization if his political power were not checked soon enough. But they never let their viewers and readers know that they thought so, the same way that they never let their viewers and readers know how much they despised Trump. That would not have been "objective journalism" as they knew and revered it.

There were a few exceptions to this "objectivity." For example, Keith Olbermann spoke as directly about politics on air to his viewers and his did off the air to his personal acquaintances. Actually, sometimes Keith spoke even more directly and clearly on air, because he thought it was important. And from 2015 to 2017 Keith minced his words especially not at all when it came to Donald Trump and the clear fact that Trump was crazy and that a crazy person shouldn't be President of the United States.

But after a career of such directness about political things, Keith went from hosting his own hour-long prime-time show 5 nights a week on MSNBC, to losing that gig in 2011 and going to Current TV until 2012, and then from 2013 to 2015 he had a sports show on ESPN, but a show on which he had promised ESPN that he would not mention politics at all, and then in 2016 and 2017 he went back to speaking plainly and directly about politics, but he was only doing it on a podcast for GQ. Big-time political journalism had made it as clear as could be that anyone who spoke in public as clearly about politics as Keith did had no place in big-time political journalism. Keith violated the principle of "objectivity," of "letting the viewers make up their own minds," and doing everything possible to make sure that they didn't have too much to work with when making up their minds. Everything Keith said was completely accurate, of course, but that was not the point!

All of the above is my sarcastic reaction to the alarmed reaction by many in political journalism to the way that CNN's Don Lemon reacted to Donald's speech, which was full of lies and an embarrassment to the US, by saying, on the air, as the host of his own hour-long prime-time news program, that it was full of lies and an embarrassment to the US.

Every speech Trump has made as President has been full of lies and an embarrassment to the US. The 94% or so of America's political reporters who aren't idiots or Republican tools, or both, should have been reacting constantly the way Lemon reacted last night, since long before he was elected.

Well. Thank goodness that at least a few journalists, here and there, now and then (under extreme circumstances, mostly), are re-thinking the "objective journalism" nonsense.

Monday, August 21, 2017


1. What was the last thing you put in your mouth? A toothbrush.

2. Where was your Facebook profile picture taken? Cut-and-pasted from the Internet.

3. Do you play Candy crush? No

4. Who made you laugh last? I don't remember.

5. How late did you stay up last night? Midnight. And last night I managed to not fall asleep in front of the toob.

6. If you could move somewhere else, where would you move? If I could afford serious renovations on this place, I might not want to move at all.

7. Ever been to another country? Lots of 'em! The cool thing is: they're all different in unexpected ways!

8. Which of your Facebook friends lives closest to you? I have no idea.

9. How do you feel about Dr. Pepper? I have no feelings about Dr Pepper.

10. When was the last time you cried? I'm crying right now.

11. Who took your profile picture? I have no idea. (See #2.)

12. Who was the last person you took a picture with? I don't do that selfie thing.

13. What's your favorite season? I'm trying to be more appreciative of all of them.

14. If you could have any career, what would it be? I've got an okay career. I'd just like to get paid.

15. Do you listen to rap music? I may have been the first person to talk to Larry King about rap music. It was 1982. I called his radio show and asked him what he thought of it. He acted like he'd never heard of it: "Rat music?!" "No, Larry. Rap -- like talking."

16. If you could talk to ANYONE right now, alive or dead, who would it be? Maybe Scarlett Johansson or Reese Witherspoon. Would they want to talk to me, is the question.

17. Are you a good influence? Maybe in some ways. In other ways definitely not. I hope I've gotten better at warning people about that...

18. Does pineapple belong on pizza? A great chef can make anything work. But in the case of pineapple on a pizza it would take a stone genius.

19. If you have the remote, what channel are you watching? I'm surfing a lot of the time.

20. Who do you think will fill this out? I don't care, I'm done.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Some Statistics and Thoughts on Renewable Energy

It is estimated that wind power could eventually equal 5 times total current global energy production. That's not 5 times the current demand for electricity, but 5 times all of the current energy production of all types. That's 40 times the current demand for electricity.

Currently only about 1 million homes in the US have solar panels on their roofs. (I've been looking for global statistics for residential rooftop solar, but I still haven't found any.) If 100% of the roofs of both homes and non-residential buildings in the US had solar panels, of course, there would be a lot of left-over electricity with no-one to use it, even if there were no electricity generated from wind or geothermal or biomass or tidal or hydroelectric or oil or gas or coal, and no electricity generated from non-rooftop solar: none of those big solar farms owned by utilities.

Globally, the total new solar photovoltaic capacity installed in 2016 was more than 76 gigawatts, up more than 50% from the 50 new gigawatts of capacity installed in 2015.

All new renewable energy capacity added in 2016 was around 161 gigawatts, bringing the total capacity to almost 2,017 GW. Renewable energy additions accounted for about 62% of all new additions. That, of course, means that about 38% of all new capacity was in the form of oil, gas, and coal, and that's far too much. Oil, gas and coal should be shrinking rapidly on the way toward extinction, and they could be, they would be, if we got serious about renewables.

There are few fundamental technical barriers, right now, to achieving 100% global energy production from renewables. Many places in the world, including Aspen, Norway, British Columbia, Paraguay and Uruguay are already over 90%, with current technology. But of course, renewable-energy technically is rapidly improving. A lot of the smartest people on Earth are working full-time on those improvements, both in making currently-used technologies such as solar and wind more efficient, and in developing emerging technologies such as enhanced geothermal system (EGS), forms of marine energy other than tidal, which is already in use, artificial photosynthesis, and others. The technology of batteries and grids is rapidly improving.

The major obstacles to totally eliminating power production by oil, gas and coal are not technological, but sociological and political: climate change denial, sabotage and misinformation by the petrochemical industry, and political resistance to renewable energy which bought and paid for by the petrochemical industry. The petrochemical industry which, in the US, keeps getting those tax breaks in the billions year after year.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Nobody NEEDS a Watch

It seems that large segments of the watch-enthusiast population are in denial. Take, for example, this recent article in the fine Australian watch-enthusiast publication Time & Tide entitled EDITOR’S PICK: Is the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 the only watch you’ll ever need?

It begins:

"There’s a concept in the world of watch enthusiasts that’s referred to as ‘only one watch’. For the majority of the population, this concept is better known as ‘normality’."

"Normality"? Is that a word? In any case, the assertion is incorrect, because the majority of the population no longer wear watches. The title of the article is misleading, because we don't need watches. Those of us who still have watches, have them because we think they're neat. There's no good reason that I can see not to face this fact.

You know what? It suddenly struck me, just now, after I finished the previous sentence, that this is sort of like religion and atheism: for me, personally, belief in God simply makes no sense, and that's that. But for many theists, perhaps most of them, their belief is a great comfort. And after having spent several extremely unpleasant years in the close company of New Atheists, who believe that most or all of the world's problems will be solved once people stop believing in God or gods, I'm much more inclined not to bother people about their religious belief. Because the New Atheists themselves are a perfect refutation of their own thesis: they don't believe in God, and they're still horrible, ignorant people and a plague upon everyone they meet.

I may be correct when I say that nobody needs a watch, objectively, now that there are so many phones, computers, microwave ovens, automobiles, televisions, etc, etc, which tell time.

But that simple objective observation completely ignores people's subjective needs. Who can draw the precise line which separates people's needs from their wants? I'll tell you who: not me.

Does anybody need me coming around and telling them that they don't need such-and-such, that they only want it?

I'm not sure anybody does need that, even if, as in the case of watches, I add that I want the same things and find nothing wrong with wanting them. Whether they need it or not, there's no doubt at all that most people don't want that sort of thing. The same way that Time & Tide and its readers may not need or want me to add that, with a suggested retail price of 7200 Australian dollars, anyone who's going to buy a Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 is probably going to have lots of other watches, either instead of or in addition to it.

What do I know about people who can afford to drop several grand on a watch? The vast majority of people I've known in my life haven't been in that income bracket.

It's like I approached this article determined to misunderstand it as completely as possible. What it says is that the Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 is a very versatile watch stylistically, going well with both relatively casual and relatively formal attire, that it is rugged and dependable, able to take many bumps and thumps and still keep great time, that, in the opinion of the author, it will still be stylish in 50 years (I could opine that nobody knows what fashions will be like in 2067, but have I found the audience which wants to hear me say these things?), and that, all in all, he thinks it's just really neat.

It's the sort of article watch enthusiasts want.

What group of people want to read pieces such as this blog post? Maybe, since I try my best to be just like I am, as opposed to trying to please most people most of the time, I ought to spend much, much more time trying to answer that question.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Hollywood Autism: Vice News: "Autism Under the Lens" and The Accountant, Starring Ben Affleck

Last night's episode of "Vice News" on HBO was entitled "Autism: Under the Lens." "Vice News"' Executive Producer (its only Executive Producer, apparently, in an age where it's more and more common for movie and TV credits to have long lists of Executive Producers for every show) is Bill Maher, well-known for advocating anti-vaccination positions. Anti-vaxxers have promoted the thoroughly-discredited notion that vaccines cause autism, as well as the notion, which I certainly hope is in decline or at least being re-examined by a significant amount of people, that autism is, in anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy's words, a "horrible disease." (And seriously, what's up with calling all of these shows "Vice" in the first place? "Vice," "Vice News," and a whole "Viceland" network. Surely I can't be the only one who finds the name ridiculous.)

And so I was pleasantly amazed that vaccines were not even mentioned once in the entire episode, and that -- along with some researchers and therapists specializing in autism who referred to autism as a disorder as if there where no debate about that, and who might be inclined to refer to the condition as a "horrible disease" -- significant air time was also given to the point of view sometimes referred to as neurodiversity, which considers us autistic people as not disabled, but just different, as atypical. At least one autistic person on the referred to achievements of his as being possible because of his autism and not in spite of it.

Is this evidence that Bill Maher, unlike some of his anti-vax and New Atheist pals, can learn? Maybe not. Maybe all it means is that Bill's position as Executive Producer of "Vice News" does not include him paying any attention to the show. I would like to think that Bill is learning, and becoming more sophisticated on topics on which he has been led astray.

My one major criticism of the episode was the weight given to the belief that autism is becoming more common. It's true that diagnoses of autism are becoming more common. But I myself feel that this could be entirely explained simply by the fact that diagnosis is getting better and becoming more widespread. The term "autistic" is barely 1 century old. As recently as the 1970's, the vast majority of people, including the majority of physicians, had still never heard of autism, let alone understanding it well or diagnosing it. People in general are still just beginning to learn about autism. So of course the diagnosis of autism is becoming more common. People who believe that autism is becoming more widespread, and that it is a horrible disease, say: Oh no, oh no, it's a plague. People like me, who think that autism is about as common as it has always been, and that what's changing is that we're understanding it better, think that things are getting better. Understanding is key, and it's definitely happening: neurologically-typical people are understanding autistic people better, and we autistic people are understanding the rest of the population better. It's not a plague, it's a healing. That's how I see it.

In any case, this episode of "Vice News," along with other things such as the 2016 Ben Affleck movie The Accountant, whose title character, played by Ben, has been described as "the first autistic superhero," gives me hope that Hollywood in general is getting smarter about autism. (And of course, just like anyone else who is opposed to actual plagues, like plagues of measles and influenza, I hope they're becoming better informed about vaccines too.) I don't know whether the Accountant actually is the first autistic superhero, and The Accountant, although not a bad movie at all, is far from the masterpiece that The Dark Knight is: it copies some of The Dark Knight's style in cinematography and editing and music and the back-and-forth chronology of the plot, without giving you the same level of thrills and chills as the Batman movie. The Accountant does have some very nice moments: the montage at the end with Sean Rowe singing "To Leave Something Behind," for example, should leave you pleasantly verklemmt whether you're autistic or not, I should think, if you've been watching carefully up until then.

Although the superhero stuff in The Accountant is occasionally somewhat silly, the movie is very smart and realistic about autism. It doesn't say that autism will make a child grow up to be a superhero: the superhero part has more to do with Affleck's character having been intensively trained in various martial arts all during his childhood, and then someone close to him having been murdered by the Mafia. But when it comes to the characteristics and behaviors of autistic people, The Accountant does a better job than any other movie or fictional TV show I've seen with the exceptions of Rain Man and Temple Grandin with Claire Danes in the title role. The real-life Temple Grandin was a technical consultant on Rain Man and the Claire Danes film. I haven't been able to find out yet whether she also worked on The Accountant. I didn't see her name in the credits. Maybe, at last, Hollywood can get portray autism realistically without Dr Grandin's help.

As far as I know, Ben Affleck has not been on Bill Maher's show "Real Time" since that particularly unpleasant (for Ben) episode in 2014, during which Sam Harris mocked Ben for asserting that Islamophobia exists and is related to racism. That was Ben's 7th appearance on the show, dating back to 2005.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Hublots and the People Who Hate Them

I'm still really new at being a watch fancier. But I have learned one thing: It's impossible, at least for me, to really get a sense of how a watch looks just from photographs of it, not matter how numerous and high-definition and from how many different angles the photographs may be. Photographs are not the same as having the watch in front of you, and looking at a watch in front of you is not the same as holding it, and I'm poor -- although I was able purchase a Seiko 5 --

(there are many like it, but that one is mine) -- and I imagine, although I have not tested this theory, that if I constantly went around to high-end jewelers and asked to be allowed to touch the high-end stuff, and never bought anything, that it might lead to my becoming persona non grata in those stores. I don't know. Might depend on the store.

A lot of people really despise Hublot. Which would mean, if I wore one, that judgmental douchebags would see the Hublot on my wrist and avoid me, sparing me the trouble of having to avoid them. One of the many reasons why I want an MP-05. I love to read the Watch Snob, but, unfortunately, he actually is a snob, and not just about watches, and he hates Hublots, which, as I strongly suspect, has to do not only with the watches themselves, but also with the sort of people who wear Hublots, whom the Watch Snob and his inbred acquaintances would refer to (in private, of course. Amongst themselves) as not our sort of people, and my God, snobbery is tiresome.

This is an MP-05,

a watch made by Hublot "in partnership with Ferrari." I still haven't figured out what exactly the nature of this partnership is. I'm sure that it consists almost entirely of one company giving money to the other, but I've no idea whether Hublot gives money to Ferrari or the other way around. There have been many partnerships between watchmakers and car makers, and I've found almost all of them to be very silly. They say again and again that the design of this watch in "inspired by" the design of that car or that the design othis car is "inspired by" the design of that watch, and almost always I find it all very silly, but in this case, the design of the MP-05 actually and undeniably is inspired by the design of a Ferrari V-12 engine:

I happen to think the watch looks really cool.

You know what? I have to pause now, and remember where I came in, and rephrase what I just said: I think that photos of the watch look really cool. I haven't actually seen a MP-05 yet, just pictures of them. I suppose it's possible that if I held one in my hands, I might be appalled. I might suddenly understand perfectly well why all of those people despise Hublots.

I might become one of those people. I might even suddenly despise people who wear Hublots, if not instantly upon seeing the watch itself, then upon meeting 10 Hublot owners and sensing undeniable trends in them and what they do. Who knows? Not me.

However, in the meantime, judging only from photos and realizing the limitations of that evidence, I think that the Hublot MP-05 look really cool. And besides its looks: you wind it once and it runs for 50 days. It's hard for me to imagine how even the most snobbish Hublot-hater could not find that cool, at least deep down in secret, even if he or she never admitted it. Small as a normal watch, but runs for 50 days. That's sort of like a car which you could very comfortably drive to the supermarket and back, but which can also go 500mph.

Speaking of cars, and imagining that you'd like things without having seen them or having other crucial bits of information about them: when the Bugatti automobile brand was re-introduced in the 21st century, at first, just reading about them and looking pictures of them, I was certain that I would love having one. Then, late in 2004, around the time when the first 21st-century model, the Veyron, went on sale to the public, I actually saw one in a shopping mall in Berlin. And it was so low to the ground, and I am so tall, that I found it just about impossible to believe that I could sit comfortably inside of one. (Right next to the Bugatti was a Bentley which looked much more like my sort of thing.)

Then, over the years, I learned more things which made the Veyron even less attractive to me: such as that it got 7mpg when driven gently. Such as that the tires had be replaced every 1000 miles if driven gently, and every 62.5 miles (15 minutes) if driven at 250mph. And that 4 new tires cost $30,000.

So: the previous 5 paragraphs all by way of saying that I think it's possible that I would hate Hublots if I knew more about them. Still, with what I know right now, Hublots look really cool and Hublot haters look like hateful people, often with extremely severe cases of stick-up-the-butt. The way it looks to me now is that Hublot is adventurous, and that people who only like watches which look like this --

-- are incredibly boring.

Not that I would necessarily find that particular watch to be boring, if I saw it in person and held it and put it on my wrist and wore it for a month, because I had become a well-known and respected writer on the subject of watches, so that watch manufacturers loaned me new watches for a month at a time just on the hope that I would write about them.

But I am fairly certain that I would still strongly object to the notion that ALL watches should look more or less like that. Which, I'm afraid, is not very far from the position taken by the Watch Snob and many other watch snobs. I still like the Watch Snob's writing very much. I'm going to decide for myself what I like and don't like, that's all.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Trump's Going on Vacation for 17 Days -- What Does it Mean?

Maybe it means nothing. Maybe it's as pointless to look for meaning in this as in many things Trump does, doesn't do and says.

Maybe it means he's close to taking a permanent vacation from the job, resigning, retiring, working on his golf game full-time. He doesn't seem to be having fun Presidentin', he's complained about how hard the job is.

Maybe new White House chief of staff General Kelly, highly praised by Republicans and Democrats alike as someone highly skilled in bringer order to chaotic situations, encouraged the Main Agent of Chaos to take a very long vacation, hoping to make the White House as orderly as possible during those 17 days. And maybe Kelly will make the administration ship-shape. Still, when/if Trump returns on August 21, how long could the most stable state of order last?

Mueller is not taking a vacation. He's begun issuing grand jury subpoenas. Talking heads on TV, specialists in such things, are opining that the President has already publicly admitted to obstruction of justice, in an interview with Lester Holt. Prosecutors are saying they've indicted people for much less than what everybody already knows Trump has done. More Congressional Republicans are standing up to Trump. Polls show that his approval rating among his base is finally beginning to erode -- which may be the only reason that more Republican Congresspeople have found the guts to openly talk about what a mess he is. Trump's job can't be getting more fun.

Go ahead, Donald: work on your golf game full-time. Except when you take the time to tell wildly-cheering crowds of sheer idiots about how your Presidency was sabotaged and ended by a witch hunt by the liberal elites.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Brightest Spotlight in the World

In a private conversation, Samuel Johnson said that politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel. Surprisingly, the politician Johnson had in mind when he said this was Edmund Burke. James Boswell faithfully recorded the conversation, and published parts of it later, with Burke's name omitted, in his Life of Samuel Johnson. Johnson was very careful (this part of the conversation made it into Boswell's book) to say that he wasn't certain that this particular politician was a a scoundrel. But if he were a scoundrel, politics would afford him a refuge he did not reserve.

Johnson was notoriously hotheaded, he made all sorts of rash judgements which aren't generally accepted at face value, and I don't think we have good cause here to wonder whether Burke was a scoundrel. Even Johnson himself qualifies his damnation and says that maybe Burke is a scoundrel, as if he himself knows better than to say such a thing. I suspect that whatever Burke had done or Johnson suspected that he might have done to enrage Johnson, Johnson soon got over it or realized that he had only imagined the cause of his rage as having emanated from Burke.

And in any case, the great majority of the people who for two and a half centuries have heard and repeated the bonmot "Politics is the last refuge of a scoundrel" have never associated it with Burke, and just thought of it as a general warning about what politics can sometimes do when it is misused.

And it may have been a sound warning in the middle of the 18th century. But does it still hold weight today?

No, I really don't think so. I think it's much less true now than it was even 20 years ago, let alone 250. Media coverage of politicians has become so much more meticulous, and access to that coverage has become some much closer to universal, that politics today may be the last place where a clever scoundrel would run for cover.

Donald Trump has been a crooked, lying businessman for decades, that's what he's used to. As a businessman he didn't get away with all of his lies, but he got away with more of them because 1) people only did business with him when they chose to, unlike all of us having to deal with him being POTUS whether we like it or not; and 2) as a businessman he didn't have nearly as much media scrutiny. If you thought something he said was a lie, you couldn't just punch up a video of yesterday's board meeting to compare it to.

Who was it who first referred to the Presidency of the United States as "the brightest spotlight in the world"? Whoever it was, I don't think they were speaking during the Washington or John Adams or Jefferson administrations. Perhaps as recently as the Eisenhower administration, politics might have been a good place for a crooked businessman to run to after he had burned too many bridges in the private sector by burning to many customers and contractors and business partners. Perhaps.

Perhaps Donald Trump is so old-fashioned that he thought of politics as a good dark hole he could always scurry into when he wasn't getting with things any more with business as usual. Maybe he's so dumb that he scurried away to hide in the brightest spotlight in the world.

Be all of that as it may: the spotlight obviously isn't bright enough yet, or Trump never would've come near the Republican nomination, let alone the White House. Changing from the Electoral Collage to simple majority popular vote for POTUS would brighten things up a lot. And although my regular readers may be tired of me saying it over and over, let me say it again: proportional representation!

Dream Log: On the Tough Side of Town

I dreamed I was living in a large apartment on the top floor of a four- or five-story building with a motorcycle gang: a couple dozen tough-looking guys wearing biker colors, and a couple of their lady friends. It was pretty crowded. I don't know whether I had moved in with them or they had moved in with me. In any case, a lot of my books were there, out there in plain sight where anyone could touch them.

I felt I had to leave -- not just go out for a walk, but go out for a walk and not come back. Even though it meant leaving my books behind. When I got out into the hall, I realized that I was barefoot. And outside, it was cold-autumn or semi-winterish weather. I went back inside and looked all over the place, but I couldn't find my shoes or socks. Finally I mentioned to some of the bikers that I couldn't find my shoes or socks. Someone took pity on me and found a pair of sneakers that fit me okay, and a good pair of socks.

And so I walked out, leaving the bikers behind forever with those books and hoping that at least some of them would get something out of the reading, with my feet quite comfortable in the cold weather. I hadn't taken a good look at the socks and shoes before putting them on, and now I wondered whether perhaps the bikers, what with their high profits from who knows what all sorts of scary activities, were connnoisseurs of fine expensive footwear. (I am not.) Outside it was dusk and getting dark. As I walked I had to keep my eyes open, for in the park outside the apartment building, in addition to sparrows and squirrels, there were buffalo, and some of the buffalo were aggressive. For the most part I managed to avoid them as I crossed the park, but once I had to run fast and climb a tree, just barely evading a charging buffalo who crashed into the big oak just below my climbing feet and made it sway alarmingly.

On the other side of the park my Dad had an apartment, and he let me spend the night on his couch. The next morning, somehow, my mail was already being forwarded to my Dad's apartment. A box about a foot long and wide and tall was addressed to me, from a Christian publisher. Inside the box was an enthusiastic letter about a piece of writing I didn't remember sending to them, and a small television monitor which played a video in which people were acting out the writing I had submitted to the publisher, intercut with brief shots of me watching the performers, wearing a dark stocking cap similar to caps which several of the bikers had worn. I called the publisher, who was definitely interested in publishing the piece, but kept tenaciously avoiding any mention of money -- he wanted to publish the piece but didn't want to pay me for it. I told him that if he ever published anything I'd written without giving me an agreed-upon amount of payment in advance, he'd be hearing from my lawyer, and I hung up.

My Dad and I had breakfast together and discussed the buffalo problem in the park. Heavily-attended city council meetings were discussing the issue, with very vehement members of the public loudly weighing in on both of the two main options: let hunters come in and blast away until all the buffalo were dead; or shoot the buffalo with tranquilizer darts, put them on trains, and ship them west to some place where there were already a lot of buffalo. (This was in a part of the Midwest where there hadn't been large numbers of wild buffalo since the 19th century. Nobody knew for sure how these buffalo had managed to suddenly appear in this park in the middle of a Midwestern city.) My Dad and I were firmly on the ship-'em-west side of the debate. Besides the two main opposing sides of the question, a small minority wanted to leave the buffalo alone, and remove people from the area if necessary. I had a lot of sympathy for this view, but didn't see how it would be possible to realize it, and was supporting the ship-'em-west side in order to stop the shoot-'em-all side.