Monday, August 21, 2017

THE INTERNET WANTS TO KNOW ALL ABOUT ME!

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 is 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.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Trump Unfit to Serve? Duh!

Today on CNN's show "Reliable Sources," Presidential Historian Douglas Brinkley


(exactly how much do you need to write about Presidents in order to become a Presidential Historian, in caps? Or are there actually other criteria besides volume of writing? Brinkley is a professor at Rice. Maybe you usually need to be a professor in order to get the all caps. With an exception made for Robert A Caro. Btw I'm re-reading Caro's 4 volumes about LBJ, and they're annoying me less and impressing me more.) said that Donald Trump is "unfit to command, in my opinion." See for yourself.

Well, duh, Douglas. Anybody who isn't to the Right of Barry Goldwater or in deep denial or dumber than a bag of hair, or some combination of those, either has known since long before Trump was elected that he's unfit. Barack Obama said months before the November election, in so many words, that Trump was unfit to serve as President. Hillary said it. Bernie said it.

The number of prominent Republicans who said so was -- greater than the number who have said so after he was elected. So you just have to guess how to divide those who changed their minds into those who went into denial after the election, and those who figured that having a mentally-ill Republican President wouldn't necessarily have to be all bad.

We're waiting for you, Republicans. The whole world is watching, and STILL waiting, for you to do what you and the whole world know is the right thing to do, and remove this psychopath from the most powerful political office on our one and only Earth. I hope you pay at the ballets for having waited this long, Republicans. I hope Trump is the last Republican who will ever be elected President of the United States, and that your party will soon follow the Federalists, the Know Nothings and the Free Soil Party into history. You deserve to go out of business for something as serious as this.

Oh well. As obvious as what the capitalized Presidential Historian said on CNN today was -- and I'm far from certain that today was even the first time that Douglas Brinkley said on CNN that Trump was unfit to serve -- maybe it's part of a trend, part of the beginning of the end of the Trump era. Hope springs yada yada.

Imagine how delicious that day will be. The day when it's over.

As far as I know, Douglas Brinkley is not related to the late broadcast journalist David Brinkley. (Ask your parents, kids. All of us old folks remember David.)

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Trump’s Approval Rating Almost 30 Points Worse Than Bill Clinton’s During the Monica Lewinsky Scandal

-- That's a current headline at Newsweek.com.

The reason Bill's approval rating was 30 points higher is that the real scandal back in 1998 was that the Republicans were trying to remove the President from office over a private matter between consenting adults. How long will it take for journalists and historians to catch up with what over 60 percent of the public understood in 1998, and start referring to it as the Starr affair or the Starr failed coup or the Starr insanity or something like that, instead of the Lewinsky affair?

In the same way, the real scandal today is not Trump's sexual assaults or his encouragement of police brutality or his financial entanglements or his dealings with Putin or his clear mental illness and inability to do his job properly -- the real scandal is that the GOP-led Congress has not impeached him yet.

Think about it. Let it sink in: in 1998, they impeached Clinton, tried to remove him from office, for that. And during that attempt, Newt Gingrich and the Republicans' first choice to replace Newt both had to resign, because they had both been caught doing pretty much exactly the same thing they were using as the world's flimsiest excuse to oust a head of state. And now, they haven't impeached Trump or invoked the 25th Amendment.

Ethnic Diversity and Racism in Ancient Rome

A brouhaha has erupted in Britain about ethnic diversity and racism in ancient Rome: Alt-right commentator gets 'schooled' by historian over diversity in Roman Britain, and now people are arguing about who got schooled by whom and who is or isn't alt-right.

I don't know who is or isn't alt-right or who got schooled by whom, and I also don't know how racist or ethnically-diverse ancient Rome was.

I do know that here, as seemingly always and everywhere, a lot of people are making up a version of history which suits them, rather than actually studying history.

It seems that people are so anxious to be sure that racism was unknown in ancient Rome that they've even taken to translating "white" and "black" out of Catullus' notorious 93rd poem: "Nil nimium studeo, Caesar, tibi velle placere/ nec scire utrum sis albus an ater homo." ("I don't care much about pleasing you, Caesar, or knowing whether you are white or black." This short poem was Catullus' response to an invitation to dinner by Caesar.) As Caesar said, "Libenter homines id quod volunt credunt." ("Men gladly believe what they wish to be true.") And Caesar's bonmot applies equally to those who underestimate the prevalence of racism in ancient Rome and those who overestimate it, rather than examining the evidence with an open mind. And it applies as well to those who are convinced that Jesus was "black" and also to those who are convinced he was "white" (I contend that his hostorical existence is uncertain and his appearance completely unknown), and to everyone else who claims to be studying history when what they are actually doing is making uninformed pronouncements on historical subjects with closed minds and little information.

If I had translated Caesar as "People gladly believe[...]" instead of "Men gladly believe[...]," I would've been editing out his sexism, which he shared with almost all ancient Roman men of whom we know, a sexism which is much more obvious and plain than the degree to which ancient Romans were or were not racist.

Have people already begun to present a non-sexist version of ancient Rome?

I feel very lonely at times when I consider how very few people care at all about getting an accurate view of historical subjects.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Dream Log: Travel Blogging Project

I dreamed that I was one of around a dozen bloggers chosen to participate in a corporate-sponsored project, one of the corporations probably being General Motors, because each one of us was put as a passenger into an identical boring new GM car. Starting in a parking lot in downtown Detroit, the cars took off together, following identical GPS routes hundreds of miles east.

My father, my mother, my brother and I were in my car. We were all decades younger than we really are, although it was still 2017. As it was decades ago, my Dad was driving.

The GPS route took us over a variety of roads, from Interstates to rural dirt roads to streets going through the middle of towns.

Only a couple of the bloggers blogged mainly about cars, and only a couple were travel writers. The rest of us represented quite a variety of approaches to writing. We were told that we could blog about the cars, or about the journey, or not, just as we pleased. We could link blog posts by the other bloggers -- current posts about this road trip, or posts years old. We could critique posts by the others. Or we could do none of the above. In fact, we were given no requirements whatsoever about blogging, only suggestions.

All the traveling expenses, gas, meals, hotels, everything, was being covered by the project's sponsors. Whether we bloggers were also actually being paid, or whether this was a blogging contest, with the blogger judged best by some experts or by any randoms readers who expressed an opinion, won a prize, I don't recall.

It was also stressed repeatedly to the drivers of all the cars that this was not a race. On the contrary, we were all encouraged to take our time and enjoy the trip.

It's a good thing we weren't racing, because the driving got hairy enough without us racing. In northwestern Ohio, just a few dozen miles into the trip, on a stretch of Interstate full of construction and detours, three lanes full of high-speed bumper-to-bumper traffic were suddenly required to merge to two lanes. This was impossible to do, of course, and many of us screeched to a stop and a few cars were rear-ended, although thankfully it seemed that there was no major damage done to humans or cars. As we waited to get rolling again, I said, "I just hope whoever's re-designing this stretch of road isn't done yet."

The trip had started late in the afternoon. Just as he had been decades ago, on this trip my Dad was a bit of a leadfoot, and we soon were out of sight of the other cars with bloggers. Shortly after nightfall, on an uncrowded multi-lane stretch of Interstate near Cleveland, we were suddenly zooming up toward a brown Corvette with some body damage motionless and sideways in the right lane. (Although he drove above the speed limit and never used his turn signals, Dad respected some other good-driving habits such as staying to the right except for passing.) Dad calmly reacted, turning to pass the stopped car on the smooth paved berm to the right, then put us back into the right-hand lane, all with no lurching, no screeching of the skinny entry-level tires, no danger of flipping the car. "Good driving, Dad," I said. Then I said, "Should somebody call 911 and report the stopped car in the road?" But none of us did.

Driving through the gentrified-looking downtown of small town in western Pennsylvania, on a narrow old two-lane road, with everything well-lit by streetlamps, traffic was stopped coming the other way. People had gotten out of the cars and were standing around looking angry. I wasn't sure whether this was a traffic jam or a demonstration. The angry people and their cars looked much less prosperous than the surrounding downtown area.

In another town, a stretch of road which was much less well-lit twisted through and under -- overpasses -- some interesting-looking architecture, buildings lit mostly just fleetingly by our headlights. Red-brick and concrete, all curved, very few angles, no right angles, just like the road twisting through it. Here and there a corporate logo was fashioned of the red brick and concrete. Except for the corporate logos it could have been a university or a hospital. I wondered whether an expert on architecture would find it interesting or hideous or neither. While I was honestly trying to think what I thought of these red-brick and concrete buildings -- the corporate logos struck me as rather hideous, but they were far from the whole. They could be removed rather easily -- I woke up.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Trump and the LGBT Community

Today Trump tweeted that he not allow transgender people to join the US military. In June 2016 he tweeted the following:

Donald J. Trump‏ @realDonaldTrump
"Thank you to the LGBT community! I will fight for you while Hillary brings in more people that will threaten your freedoms and beliefs."


Well, first of all, Trump promised he had the backs of a group of people, and he has broken a promise and screwed them over. Whoever thought something like this could possibly happen, that Trump could do that?

Secondly, what was Trump thanking the LGBT community for in June 2016? Did the LGBT community officially name him Person of the Year in June 2016? Or was this another example of Trump pretended that someone was a supporter of his? Hmmm... Maybe Caitlyn Jenner said something nice to Trump, and Trump assumed that Caitlyn was speaking for all LGBT people everywhere.

Now for the part about Hillary bringing in more people who would threaten the freedoms and beliefs of LGBT people if she became President. Hmmm... Well, again, maybe Trump thought that all LGBT people believed in and stood for everything that Caitlyn Jenner and Milo Yiannopoulos believe in and stand for. If Hillary has become President, it would, in fact, have displeased Caitlyn and Milo.

Or maybe his tweet from June 2016 had even less to do with reality than that. I don't know.

Dream Log: Answers

I dreamed that I went into a room whose walls were painted white and covered with things which looked somewhat like trading cards, except that they were built into into walls in perfect rows, and the pictures on them were not pictures of athletes. I don't remember anymore whose pictures were on the cards. The cards could be pressed like buttons on a computer screen, and pressing them performed some sort of function which was very important and impressive. Several people had been in the room longer than I and seemed to be more advanced in operating the cards.

The room and its cards seemed to be hooked up to some sort of communications grid. I wasn't sure if this grid was the World Wide Web or something else.

There were two doors in the room. I had come in through a door in the front of a house on a street which was urban, residential and quiet. I went out through the other door into a small backyard where a large cargo truck was parked, smaller than an American semi, more like the cargo trucks in Europe, but still taking up quite a bit of the yard. The doors in the back of its trailer were open. Inside the trailer several people were talking amid stacks of crates. More people were standing around and talking in the yard.

Everyone was talking about the room whose walls were lined with buttons which looked like playing cards, and the new communications system it represented. We all agreed that it was a breakthrough, a better way of communicating and acquiring and processing data. Soon millions of desktop and portable devices would be using the new system. The room was an early prototype, that was why it was so large. Some of the people thought that the new devices would be as small as current computers and smartphones within months. Others thought that this was overly-optimistic, and said that two years was more realistic.

A man wearing a grey sweatshirt and sweatpants told me that I looked tense. He stood behind me and for a few minutes he massaged my shoulders and my upper back between my shoulder blades, and I became much more relaxed. After this, I was able to follow the conversation about the new communication system better. Then I woke up, and, of course, there was no technical breakthrough and no new way to communicate.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dream Log: Physics and Disapproval

I dreamed that my brother was living with some fanatical Christians. They may have been his father- and mother-in-law, but I don't remember meeting his bride. Their home, a large apartment on a high floor of a drab brick building among high drab brick buildings, had the look of guilty religious conformity. Even the benches on either side of one long narrow table looked like church pews.

I had brought with me an armload of books, mostly books on topics of physics and math published by Dover, such as this one:


My brother had some Dover books on related topics, and he seemed to deliberately be mixing up his Dover books with mine. I kept trying to separate them again, and I asked myself in vain why I had brought so many books with me to begin with. It wasn't as if I was going to teach my brother anything about such things. He's an accomplished mechanical engineer, his knowledge of physics and advanced math is far ahead of mine. And I also wasn't intending to give him any of the books or loan any of them to him. And I felt sure that my brother knew all of this. I wondered whether he was teasing me by mixing up his books with mine.

I scrambled around, trying to make sure that I had all of my books and none of my brother's, getting ready to flee this place. I asked myself why I hadn't carried the books in a backpack, or at least in a box: there were too many of them to comfortably carry in my arms.

My brother's mother-in-law (I presumed) was darting around and loudly disapproving of me and my scientific outlook. Then she spotted, among my books, this one --


-- which may well have been the only book ever written by a communist, small- or capital-c, whose title or author she would've recognized -- and she became louder and more agitated still, screeching, "He's communistic! He's communistic!"

For a moment I thought of correcting her, telling her that the correct adjective was "communist," or, even better, she could use the noun form and say that I was a communist. But immediately I asked myself what good that could do. It was about then that I woke up.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Reputations

John Irving went a long way out of his way, in his novel The World According to Garp, to diss the Austrain writer Franz Grillparzer, 1792-1872, remembered today for dramas such as Das goldene Vlies. Actually, in den US today he's probably most famous for being the first famous writer better than whom the fictional novelist Garp, a thinly-disguised version of John Irving, was certain he could write. This was supposedly an important milestone in any developing writer's life: finding a writer to whom one feels superior -- as a writer, at least.

I don't know whether or not that makes any sense: that you have to find some famous writer whom you are certain you can outwrite in order to become a successful writer. Perhaps it makes sense only for kinds of writers I was never interested in being. I'm not sure whether anything that John Irving has ever asserted makes much sense for people like me: the implication that he is a better writer than Grillparzer is really rather silly; the implication that he even deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as someone like Grillparzer is rather silly. The assertion by Irving that he has read anything by Grillparzer in German and understood it strains my credulity. I think Irving thinks that the name Grillparzer sounds silly, and that that is about the extent of what Irving has to say about Grillparzer. Or consider the advice he gave at a writer's conference for dealing with writer's block. He called it the constipation method: wait as long as you possibly can, and then run to the typewriter. I am certain that another writer's retort was much wittier than anything Irving has ever written: she asked, what if you don't make it to the typewriter in time? I'm sorry that I don't remember her name.

I was sure, as a young squirt reading The World According to Garp, that I could outwrite Irving, but I already knew by then that I could outwrite many -- no, most writers of bestsellers: Crichton, Ludlum, Richard Adams (Author of Watership Down), Peter Benchley, son of Robert, author of Jaws, and so forth. That I could add one more to that list, Irving, who managed to fool some people for some time into thinking he was the sort of author who deserved awards, was no big deal.

The big deal was discovering writers like Gaddis, Gass, John Hawkes, Robert Musil, Pynchon, Yeats, Doeblin, writers who really challenged me and continue to do so, and learning how close to unknown some of them were during their lifetimes, and how far most of them were from bestseller lists for most or all of their lives.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Materials of Which Watch Cases Can Be Made

* Stainless steel. Seems that everywhere I turn, people who write about watches are writing enthusiastically about stainless steel watches. I haven't been watching the world of watches very long, and I don't know what they were writing not long ago, but I clearly gather that stainless steel is being treated as the New Cool Thing. Whether this reflects an actual change in taste among people who used to buy gold or platinum watches, and still could afford to, but now have decided that it's more tasteful to be less ostentatious in their choice of wristwear; or whether those tastes haven't changed at all among those who can afford any watches they want, and what has changed is the approach of those writing, who have decided to try to reach more readers buy writing about watches more people can afford; or if the answer is some Door #3 which hasn't occurred to me, I don't know.

On the one hand, I have a stainless steel watch:


and am therefore unintentionally stylish at the moment. On the other hand, I not only didn't intend to be trendy when I got my Seiko 5 (there are any like it, but this one is mine), I really don't care about being trendy. I refer you to Thorstein Veblen.



* Brass. Boring. And high-maintenance unless you want it to look as dull as dirt or plate it with gold or nickel or something.

* Silver. I don't know any thing interesting to tell you about silver watches cases.

* Titanium. It doesn't move me. Sorry.

* Tantalum. I wrote a whole post about that one.

* Gold. It costs about 2/3 as much per ounce as it did in 2011, and that fall in the price of the metal has definitely been accompanied by a steep drop in the prices of gold watches. Perhaps the snooty exclusive rich class really has taken a recent like to stainless steel watches, and maybe part of the reason for that is that suddenly, many more people could afford gold watches, making them suddenly much less fun for the snooty exclusive rich class.

* Platinum. Everything I just speculated about gold except more so, because in the past few years the price of the metal has fallen even more sharply than that of gold.

I wish I had a watch made of gold, or, even better and even more expensive, platinum. And I really don't care what snooty exclusive rich people think of that. And I don't care that some of them will be convinced that I'm lying when I say I don't care, and that I want a watch like that for completely other reasons than any having to do with their exclusive hamster wheels. They are hamsters, those snooty people. Hamsters on exclusive wheels. Veblen. He covered all this.

* Sapphire. Yes, sapphire. If you're like I was recently, you didn't realize that sapphires aren't always blue, and that synthetic transparent sapphire is used instead of glass these days for the crystals of high-end watches. It's much tougher than glass. At least one watch company, Hublot, has made entire cases from sapphire for certain models.


Which I happen to think is wicked cool, and I don't care if the Watch Snob thinks everything Hublot does is horribly tacky, this isn't the first thing Hublot has done which I like very, very much. (For example: the watch in that picture has a 40-day power reserve. As far as I know, that's the 2nd all-time longest power reserve for a watch, behind that other Hublot with a 50 day power reserve which is also available in a variety of case materials including sapphire.)

The Watch Snob wrote in one of his columns that he guaranteed that Hublot would be out of business by the time he turned 40, which makes me wish I knew when he wrote that and how old he was then. We'll see what we see about what kind of shape Hublot is in as a company.

* Wood. Today, not in the 16th century when one might be more inclined to forgive a watchmaker for not knowing any better, but today, some watches are made with not only their cases but also quite a few of their moving parts made from wood. This makes me feel perhaps somewhat the way the Watch Snob feels about Hublot. I feel that wooden watches are wrong. I feel that it's wrong for people to buy wooden watches, as that will only tend to encourage them to make more of them. I don't feel inclined to discuss it.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Jemand fragte, wie gute Literatur ihre Leser findet.

Wenn ich ueberhaupt eine Ahnung davon haette, wie gute Literatur ihre Leser findet, waere ich langst reich und bereuhmt und nobelgekroent und wuerde noch andere gute Schriftsteller helfen, alle die schiere Scheisse auf den Bestsellern beiseite zu schieben und verdientvollerweise reich und beruehmt zu werden, und wir waeren oft auf Fernsehen, mal, um die Talkshows viel interessanter zu machen, mal, um als Weise die Leute dieses seltsamen Planeten guten Rat zu geben.

Vielleicht wuerde ich ein Haus in Suedkalifornien haben, nahe genug Conans Studio dass ich bequem von daheim dorthin zu Fuss gehen koennte; und eine Wohnung in New York, vielleicht in New York by Gehry;


und eine in Berlin, und eine in Paris -- oder vielleicht wuerde ich lieber in Hotels wohnen, als viele Wohnungen selbst besitzen. Wuerde ich gern per Flugzeug reisen, wenn ich es stets in der Luxury-Klasse taete? Ich weiss es nicht. Ich flog einmal in First Class, aber ich weiss nicht, ob diese First Class wirklich Luxury-Klasse war. Wenn es wirklich war, wenn es kaum besser als das gibt ohne ein eigenes Flugzeug zu besitzen, dann waere es offiziell: ich moechte fliegen nicht sehr. Ich glaube, dass es etwas luxurioeser geht als auf der First Klasse, welche ich erlebte. Aber ich weiss nicht, ob es irgendwo so gut fliegt dass ich es geniessen wuerde.

Ich haette vielleicht sovielen Einfluss, dass ich hoechstpersoenlich die Eroelbranche vernichte koennte, indem ich fuer Solar und Wind und Gezeitenkraft und Geothermisch und so fort redete.

Moechte ich US-Praesident werden? Ich weiss es nicht. Ich weiss es wirklich nicht.

Aber, wie gesagt, ich weiss nicht, wie gute Literatur zu ihren Lesern kommt. Ich wuesste es gern.

Naja, wenigstens habe ich eine Ahnung davon, was gute Literatur ist, und vermag sie in mehreren Sprachen zu lesen. Das ist ein Trost in meinem Elend.



Friday, July 14, 2017

"Game of Thrones" is Coming

The title of this post is a joke which you might not get if you don't watch the show.

Smug snobs are circulating memes about how they've never watched "Game of Thrones." I used to be those snobs. Yeah, I used to be proud of not watching "Game of Thrones." Then a few years ago, pretty quickly, I got hooked. For a while, being the fan of history that I am, I was very annoyed by the fact that what appeared to be an early-to-High-Medieval Western European world had some literacy, but not in Latin, because in reality, it generally took centuries before it even occurred to Western Europeans to even try to write in the native languages, so that Latin was not only the universal written language, it was the only written language, and Latin persisted along the written native languages for centuries after that. Then I told myself, Yeah, Steve, and in real life there weren't any dragons or magic or giants either, and I got over it. Somewhat. Not completely.

It would still be awesome if you learned Latin. Just the same way it would be awesome if you watched "Game of Thrones." Either way, you would thank me, and you're welcome!

It's a tremendously good show. I, like many millions of other people, am passionately in love with Daenerys Targaryen. I think Jaime is not all that bad. I hope that Arya and the Hound will end up being friends, although I'm not sure how realistic it is to hope for that. And so on and so forth. You know what I'm talking about. It's a tremendously good show. If you're too smart to watch it -- pfffft. Yes, I said pfffft, Sir! Your loss!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

I am Not Clothed in Immense Power

I'm frustrated that the investigation of Donald Trump is not moving faster. I'm frustrated that Trump is still President, that he hasn't already been impeached and removed from office, or removed by means of the 25th Amendment, or persuaded to resign by the size and intensity of the opposition to him. On Facebook today, I've been debating things with some people who also very much want to see Trump removed from office, but who are concerned that the investigation and eventual prosecution by Mueller not move too fast, because they want above all for it to be thorough. They say they feel the urgency of removing Trump as much as I do, but I don't think they do. This country has been in a continuous state of dire emergency since January 20.

Anything which can be done can be done faster or slower. Faster does not have to mean sloppier or less thoroughly. Have you seen Steven Spielberg's movie Lincoln?



I'm not much of a Spielberg fan usually, but that is an excellent movie. It shows a lot of the horse-trading which Lincoln and other leading Washington Republicans did in order to pass the 13th Amendment, which abolished slavery. Discussing Trump these days, perhaps the last Republican President, I think of that movie about the first Republican President. I sometimes feel like Daniel Day-Lewis' Lincoln in one of the film's most dramatic moments, spurring people along, pounding angrily on the table-top with the mighty palm of his hand, pointing a huge finger (Spielberg did an amazing job, as director, of making Day-Lewis look gigantic throughout the film.) and shouting, referring to when he wanted certain things to be accomplished: "NOW! NOW! NOW!"

If only I were "clothed in immense power" like Lincoln, and could make powerful people jump and run and exert themselves to the utmost by shouting at them. Perhaps I've gained a bit of power by virtue of sheer persistence, by having e-mailed various powerful people on the subject of Trump every day for over 180 consecutive days and signed many petitions and marched in rallies and all of those other things that many of us have been doing.

Perhaps I've not gained any power at all. It's not as if I'm going to stop either way.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Dream Log: Big Kind Dutch Museum

Last night I dreamed I was in a big modern museum somewhere in the Netherlands. As I am in many of my dreams, so in this one I was alone, broke and surrounded by strangers. I don't speak Dutch very well at all. In many of these dreams, in addition to my other immediate problems, I don't speak the local language. But of course, Dutch people speak English very well.

This was a very modern museum, and it seemed to be dedicated to the "everything is art" approach. And so for example, there were large groups of children in the museum, and it seemed they were being treated in the anti-disciplinarian "let them find their own way" approach of some modern schools. In a large room, the size of a large gymnasium, a group of children, maybe 10 or 12 years old, were kicking a soccer ball around. I was in a hallway which led into that large room. The ball came down the hallway toward me. I don't know whether the children had seen me standing alone in the hallway and intentionally kicked the ball to me the first time. But after I kicked it back to them the first time, they definitely kicked it back to me on purpose. And so we kicked the ball back and forth for a while, they in the large room and I in the hallway. They seemed to generally approve of my performance. However, I was not certain whether it was obvious that I was American, and whether they were taking into account, when judging the way I ran the ball down and kicked it, that I can from one of the very few places on Earth where most of the people, or at least most of them my age, hardly ever play soccer.

After the children took their ball and moved on, I sat alone on a staircase near the top of a large atrium, and wondered where the word "soccer" came from.

Then suddenly I noticed that I had lost both my shoes and my socks, and it was wintry outside. I had definitely had my shoes and socks just a moment earlier, when I was kicking the soccer ball, and now, suddenly, somehow, they were gone. I felt very embarrassed about this. But at the same time I had a feeling that I was not going to be treated harshly just when I most needed help, because I was in the Netherlands. (I don't know whether this was a realistic estimation of the Netherlands.) In any case, eventually I found a lost and found which had a variety of clothing items in a large cardboard box. A pair of shoes which could have been mine were in the box. I took those shoes and two unmatched socks from the lost and found. The museum guard in charge of the lost of found seemed to notice that I was taking socks which didn't match, and presumably weren't mine, but he seemed less concerned about that than about the fact that a person was here who needed socks. It was twilight, getting dark, and I assumed that the museum was about to close. But then two possibilities occurred to me: one, that maybe the museum didn't close; and two, that even if it was closing, they'd let me stay there. Just because it was clear I needed somewhere to stay.

I didn't talk to anyone all throughout the dream, and yet somehow I was fairly certain about what they were thinking, and what they thought of me. And it seemed that, by and large, they didn't want to go out of their way to make my troubles worse.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

My Glorious Career As a Brilliant Provocateur

I have a vivid imagination. Some would say, if they knew its full proportions, an over-active imagination. I have a healthy self-confidence in the quality of my writing. For example, when I write about receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature, although I usually attempt to do so in a humourous way, I'm not joking. I imagine it all the time, and I imagine my blog blowing up -- almost constantly. (For the benefit of readers my age and older and/or with a native language other then English who may possibly be unfamiliar with the idiom: "to blow up" means "to very suddenly become extremely popular." I'm not talking about stuff literally splodin'.) I have a lot of healthy self-confidence: time after time, I finish a blog post and think to myself: This one will be a big hit.

And time after time that post is not a hit at all, but I keep my chin up and keep plugging away.

But so far, the single most clicked-on post in my 8 years of blogging is at best a medium-sized hit. Although it has several times more pageviews than anything else on this blog, I'm careful not to call it my most-read blog post, because it's clear than many of those who've commented on it, positively as well as negatively, haven't read it very carefully at all. Maybe my average post isn't any more carefully-read, on average, than my one medium-sized-or-smaller hit, maybe my average post is much more carefully-read. It's just that in the case of the hit, I know for sure that many haven't read it carefully because there are so many comments on it, on this blog and elsewhere, which completely miss its main points, such as that I am an atheist and am not sure whether or not Jesus existed.

Some time after I noticed this widespread incautious readership, I also noticed how often I myself will just read a headline or the first paragraph of something before I move on. So I see that it wouldn't be right for me to complain too much about people treating my work the same way. However, I have tried to refrain from expressing overly-emphatic opinions about written works, whether short articles or multi-volume studies, which I know only from reading a part of them.

Anyway, yesterday I wrote a post about the Volksbühne Berlin and its upcoming change in leadership, and naturally I hope that it will be the one which finally makes me a huge glorious superstar -- it, or this one, or the one linked above could get a big second wind, or another post I wrote days or years ago could blow up. As if I care how I become a huge success -- and it's gotten some reaction, both positive and negative, somewhere else on the Internet, not here on the blog itself.

And the negative reaction -- disappointingly, so far there has been only one negative reaction -- referred to Americans blabbing away without a clue. And this is interesting in more than one way. I can't really tell whether the person making the comment has read the entire blog post. If not, it would be an ironic although hardly unusual example of someone accusing a writer of not having a clue based on work they hadn't read. If the entire post was read, however -- it's not particularly long -- then, well -- I mean, I did make it particularly clear in the post, I think, that I was viewing the controversy over the Volksbühne from a long way away, and that I knew that I actually knew very little about it. But my critic did not merely blame me for speaking up without a clue, but blamed Americans for doing so and inferred that I was a typical American and that we -- Americans -- generally stink. Which, unconsciously or not, ironically or deliberately, would seem to reinforce my point about the opposition to the change in leadership of the Volksbühne having a element of xenophobia about it.

Yesterday's blog post about the Volksbühne is not particularly substantial, I freely admit that here, just as I admitted it there. However, I can see how it's possible that it could become quite widely clicked-upon -- I'm fastidiously avoiding saying "widely-read" -- because, like my medium-sized hit about Paulkovich, it deals with a topic about which people have strong opinions. And so, like my medium-sized hit, it could conceivably serve as a place for people to gather and verbally abuse each other. The wily fame-seeking provokateur writes on subjects about which people are already provoked. Yesterday's post was actually less about the Volksbühne than about some people's extremely-passionate reactions against the incoming new leader of the company, so passionate that, even without knowing many of the details or the players involved, it is difficult for me to believe that these reactions make sense.

In essence, many of my essays are about me. Many essays, from the time that Montaigne invented the genre, have been primarily about their authors. Some may see this as arrogance, I see it as honesty. The only subject one can describe with full authority is oneself. It can actually be modesty: I was going to write about Julius Caesar, but I eventually had to face the fact that I'm not competent to write an article about Julius Caesar which would be of any use to any expert; and so instead I'm writing an essay about my failure to rise to the level of a scholar of the subject of Caesar. The self is also guaranteed to be a unique subject for every author.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Volksbühne Berlin and Chris Dercon

I finally un-followed whats-her-name ("I'll never forget what's her-name") on Facebook, because I couldn't stand her posts protesting Chris Dercon's impending leadership of the Volksbühne Berlin any more.

Of course, she and the people who commented agreeing with her didn't put it that way: they weren't talking about Chris Dercon coming to the Volksbühne and taking over for Frank Castorf: they were talking about the end of the Volksbühne; no, the end of serious theatre in Berlin; no, the end of serious theatre, period; no, the end of the world. Besides the Facebook posts she also has attended protests outside the Volksbühne. Did she actually organize and lead these protests? I don't know. Has she worked as an actress at the Volksbühne? I'm not sure about that either.

Just in case someone doesn't know: I've never seen a performance at the Volksbühne. I've seen lots and lots of pictures of productions, and a few videoclips, and read some reviews, and read some of the plays performed there. But I've never actually been there; ergo, by definition, I don't know what I'm talking about.

My first reaction, when She Who Has Been Unfollowed began her torrent of furious posts, was that it all seemed rather overdone for what was, ironically, a rather elite affair. I was assuming a greater similarity to a theatre culture with which I am actually familiar -- big-time commercial theatre in NYC -- than there actually is. Tickets to a Broadway or Off-Broadway or even some Off-Off-Broadway shows are expensive enough to make it quite an exclusive affair. Not to mention the comps: the many tickets given absolutely free to big shots who could afford perfectly well to pay full price, because it's ab-so-lute-ly backwards.

But I figured I'd better do some research before just wading into the middle of all of that Facebook lamentation and calling them all silly elitist drama queens. And it turned out that I was wrong: tickets for the Volksbühne are much less expensive than those for a Broadway play: no ticket costs more than 40 Euros; retirees and low-income people pay about half price; and some people who qualify on the basis of need can get several tickets per season free.

My next reaction was to say that they could've taken all of the energy they'd expending being furious about something which hasn't happened yet and might be quite different than what they expect, and used it to start their own damn theatre company. And they could. But, as I continued to research the Volksbühne, I learned that, in addition to the money taken in at the box office, the state of Berlin gave the Volksbühne 184 Euros for every ticket sold in 2009, and 141 Euros for every ticket sold in 2010 (these are the latest statistics I could find). And I imagine that they get the use of that theatre building right in the middle of Berlin rent-free, too.



Okay, so, yeah, they could start their own company, but starting one like the Volksbühne might be harder than I had imagined.

So I was wrong about all of that, and drastically under-informed about how German theatre in general works, and I've never seen a production at the Volksbühne, never seen one directed by Castorf, or by Dercon. So do I still actually have a freakin' problem with the protesters?

Yes. One word which is frequently used by them when they describe the way in which Dercon is going to destroy the the Volksbühne is "international." They foresee Volksbühne productions which will be slick, safe, aimed at garnering international prizes. And no longer the distinctly Berliner theatre they love. Dercon ain't even a gosh-dang German, he's a furriner, a Belgian.

What kind of God-damned Communist objects to internationalism? Provincial Communists. That's what kind. I've never been to the Volksbühne, but I have by gosh been to Berlin, and it's magnificent, and one of the things which makes it so is its openness to the world.

The whole world.

And, and, I do believe that while some international prizes are given to slick and safe theatre productions, others aren't. So that if the Volksbühne under Dercon's leadership does win some international prizes, it won't mean that everything the protesters said was correct. Although no doubt they will claim that it does.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Germany is On the Verge of Legalizing LGBT Marriage

Germany is on the verge of legalizing LGBT marriage. One legislative body has approved it, we're waiting for a second to make it official. Although their version of the Supreme Court might overturn the law.

People's reactions show that bigotry is the same wherever you go.

There are the people acting as if the Bible were the law of the land -- but much more when it has to do with homosexuality than when it has to do with shellfish and pork and the Sabbath.

There are people saying that -- although in many cases they assure us that they personally have nothing at all against homosexuals -- allowing gay marriage will be "only the beginning" and will open the gates for people who want to marry small children, animals or their siblings or parents. As if pedophilia, bestiality or incest were more likely to be practiced or favored by homosexuals than by heterosexuals. They're not.

In one land just an in another, about 100% of the people who are vehemently opposed to gay marriage and gay rights in general are, often but not always subconsciously, gay. They are afraid that expansion of gay rights, and the concomitant greater public profile of gay people because they have less reason to be afraid and hide, will make it harder for them to hide their own true nature. From themselves above all, in many but not all cases.

Apart from such neuroses of ancient religion and self-loathing, from a mentally healthy point of view, this change in the laws of Germany is not a beginning, but an end: an end to a discrimination again LGBT's. It's as simple as it can be: it's a refusal, when it comes to the issue of marriage, to make the lives of LGBT's more difficult than they already are.


Friday, June 30, 2017

There IS a Detrot Watch Company That Makes Mechanicals! No, it's NOT Shinola!

As I've mentioned before on this blog, Shinola knows that real watch enthusiasts want mechanical watches. 5 years in, they've made it pretty clear that they don't care what real watch enthusiasts want, because they're too busy selling watches with quartz movements. For $550 and up. As to how much they're actually made in the US with Swiss parts, as opposed to merely assembled in the US, from Chinese parts, let's just say that Shinola and the FTC disagree about that. Which is unfortunate for a company which constantly presents itself as 180% pure local Detroit manufacturing.

Or maybe it's not unfortunate for them. Maybe they're totally getting away with their scam. Maybe their executives don't often wake up screaming in the middle of the night because their subconsciouses are not okay with what they're consciously doing.

The company seems to be doing very well. They have brick-and-mortar stores springing up all over the place. One of them is about a mile and a half from where I am right now. I've been in there. They seems to be doing brisk business. I honestly admired the looks of the watches, and bought a notebook.

But that was a couple of years ago. Since then I've gotten tired of waiting for them to finally roll out a mechanical watch, and things like their differences of opinion with the FTC have made me wonder more whether they're just basically straight-up MBA Starbucks-and-Nike-style hucksters, hot-air salesmen, who DON'T actually care about Detroit, or integrity, or craftsmanship, or quality watches, or anything else other than your money and mine.

And I don't really know much of anything about this other Detroit watch company I just stumbled across, either, except: they DO make mechanical watches. But maybe, just maybe, they're more of a company with a soul than Shinola, which has been riding this huge marketing campaign about how they're a company with a soul. I see a few encouraging signs in this other Detroit watch company.

This other company's name is really easy to remember: it's called the Detroit Watch Company.


They use movements which aren't made in Murrka, but on their hompepage, under "Movement," they tell you what movements they use: Sellita, Eta and Miyota. They prominently feature a thorough rundown, on their website, about exactly what happens in what country in the making of their watches. Completely unlike Shinola. (And maybe because of Shinola, and aimed at those of us who've noticed how Shinola is less than 180% honest? Hm. Maybe. Who knows. Maybe it's a total coincidence, and the guys at Detroit Watch Company have never even heard of Shinola.)


The movements are the same as those used by many prestigious Swiss firms, and by high-end watchmakers in other countries. All of the watches are automatics which can also be hand-wound.

The retail prices for Detroit Watch Company watches run from $845 to $2050. Does this make them good deals compared to other watches in general? Or would a true expert tell you OMG no! Not when you could get -- say -- an Omega for the same price? I have no idea. I don't know enough about the Detroit Watch Company, and I still don't know nearly enough about watches in general, to be able to tell you that. But it's hard to imagine that watch aficionados wouldn't find those Detroit Watch Company prices awfully attractive when compared to the prices of Shinola's quartz watches.