May 28th, 2016

Churchill: Never never never…

Commenter “Sharon W” reminded me of this Churchill quote, and so I thought I’d remind you:

Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

May 28th, 2016

Let’s take a break—the duel from “The Court Jester”

Commenter Geoffrey Britain reminded me of this fabulous scene from Danny Kaye’s “The Court Jester.”

I saw the film in a movie theater as a child. In those days, you could pay for a matinee (25 cents, if memory serves) and if you liked the film (or if your parents were particularly busy that day) you could stay and watch it all over again. My brother and I stayed for this one.

The film’s plot has Danny Kaye under the sway of a hypnotic suggestion that he is actually not the bumbling guy that is his original personality, but the suave and daring “Giacomo,” Jester of Kings. The trigger for his switch from his frightened self (at the beginning of this clip) into that swashbuckling personality (at 1:09) and then back again is a finger snap. Watch:

Here’s another switcheroo scene, from the same movie. The love interest is played by Angela Lansbury. In this one, Kaye starts out as the bold Giacomo, as you can see by his body posture:

May 28th, 2016

The mess that is Venezuela

Venezuela continues its freefall:

The courts? Closed most days. The bureau to start a business? Same thing. The public defender’s office? That’s been converted into a food bank for government employees.

Step by step, Venezuela has been shutting down…

Many people cannot make international calls from their phones because of a dispute between the government and phone companies over currency regulations and rates.

Coca-Cola Femsa, the Mexican company that bottles Coke in the country, has even said it was halting production of sugary soft drinks because it was running out of sugar.

Last week, protests turned violent in parts of the country where demonstrators demanded empty supermarkets be resupplied. And on Friday, the government said it would continue its truncated workweek for an additional 15 days.

It puts me in mind of Adam Smith’s famous saying:

Adam Smith once wrote that there’s a “great deal of ruin in a nation,” by which he meant that it takes an awful lot of bungling by political leaders to bring down a powerful and prosperous state.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and Venezuela’s government has been on this course of ruin ever since the presidency of Hugo Chavez and in some ways even earlier (part of the reason is the strong dependence of Venezuela’s economy on oil). The socialist Chavez was very intrumental in the country’s economic decline:

The other paradoxical—and bad—legacy of Hugo Chávez is an economy in shambles. It is paradoxical because his term in office coincided with a boom in commodity prices and the presence of an international financial system flush with cash and willing to lend to countries like Venezuela. In addition, the president was free to adopt any economic policy he chose without any domestic or international constraints or institutional limitations. Yet, at the time of his death, few other countries had the economic distortions that besieged Venezuela.

It has one of the world’s largest fiscal deficits, highest inflation rates, worst misalignment of the exchange rate, fastest-growing debt, and one of the most precipitous drops in productive capacity—including that of the critical oil sector. Moreover, during the Chávez era the nation fell to the bottom of the rankings that measure international competitiveness, ease of doing business, or attractiveness to foreign investors, while rising to the top of the list of the world’s most corrupt countries. The latter is another paradox of a leader whose rise to power rested on the promise to stamp out corruption and crush the oligarchy. The Bolivarian bourgeoisie—the boliburgueses, as Venezuelans call the new oligarchy formed by close allies of the regime’s leaders, their families, and friends—have amassed enormous wealth through corrupt deals with the government. This, too, is part of the unfortunate legacy Chávez has left.

That quote was written about three years ago, when Chavez died of cancer. Things have only gotten worse (obviously) under his successor Maduro.

I decided to start this post by linking to an article about Venezuela from the NY Times because I had a hunch that, when I had read the whole thing, I would find that the Times would downplay the role of Venezuela’s socialist past and of Chavez himself. And sure enough, it did—even more so than I had expected. In fact, the Times’ only mention of the word “socialist” was in this segment:

The growing economic crisis — fueled by low prices for oil, the country’s main export; a drought that has crippled Venezuela’s ability to generate hydroelectric power; and a long decline in manufacturing and agricultural production — has turned into an intensely political one for President Nicolás Maduro. This month, he declared a state of emergency, his second this year, and ordered military exercises, citing foreign threats.

But the president looks increasingly encircled.

American officials say the multiplying crises have led Mr. Maduro to fall out of favor with members of his own socialist party, who they believe may turn on him, leading to chaos in the streets.

That was it for “socialist” or “socialism,” which is treated by the Times as a non-issue except for the stated fact that Maduro is a member of the socialist party. As for Chavez, his name does not appear in the article at all.

The following is the closest the article seems to come to blaming socialism for the country’s ills, and it’s really not very close:

Venezuela’s government says the problems are the result of an “economic war” being waged by elites who are hoarding supplies, as well as the American government’s efforts to destabilize the country.

But most economists agree that Venezuela is suffering from years of economic mismanagement, including over-dependence on oil and price controls that led many businesses to stop making products.

So first we have some reporting of the leftist line of a class war with the elite as the bad guys. Next we have the blaming of the US, naturally. Lastly we have the vague “economic mismanagement” and problems with “wage and price controls,” which are not identified as a favorite instrument of the left.

The problem is that one has to read critically and to also know a fair amount of background information in order to decipher what’s being left out and what it means. The writers at the Times are not ignorant; they know exactly what they’re doing. By the way, the article contains approximately 1200 words, so the authors (and/or editors) had plenty of time to mention some of the most salient points of Venezuela’s history, and chose not to do so.

May 28th, 2016

All the news that’s all about Trump

This post is not about Donald Trump.

It’s about coverage of Donald Trump.

Remember last summer, when his candidacy was new? Pundits, bloggers, and commenters kept using the phrase “Trump sucks all the air out of the room” to express his dominance of the news and therefore his overshadowing of the news of the other GOP candidates, who had a lot of trouble getting their message heard above the raucous din.

People don’t use the phrase “Trump sucks the air out of the room” much anymore, because it’s become stale. But the phenomenon continues apace with no end in sight.

Case in point: news and blog aggregate memeorandum’s page for today. I often go to that site to see what the most-talked-about stories du jour are, and Trump dominates day after day after day. For example, today I counted 24 stories/articles that memeorandum is highlighting, and all but 7 are Trumpcentric. That’s about 2/3 Trump, which is fairly typical. The un-Trump articles consist of 3 about Hillary’s emails, one about Venezuela’s woes, one about Sanders vs. Clinton, and two having to do with the Muslim world.

And it’s not as though there is some actual news about Trump today, something important or different. It’s just the way things have been now since last June, on that fateful day when Trump announced his candidacy and drew attention by making some controversial comments about the Mexicans coming to this country.

Looking back at what I believe was my very first post about Trump’s candidacy, it’s interesting that the very first paragraph of that very first post goes like this:

You can’t say Trump isn’t getting press. That’s his thing, in addition to making money: attention-getting.

In the second paragraph I mention that although Trump was already the frontrunner, I didn’t think he’d get the nomination. That was in July, but by August I was saying that he could, and that what’s more I had thought so for a while. A lot of people took much longer to take Trump seriously, but one thing that did not take a long time at all—in fact, it was nearly instantaneous—was to cover him as though almost nothing else was happening in the world. Initially, the press thought (and hoped) this would hurt him, but on that (as on many other things) they turned out to be wrong. But one thing they’re not wrong about is that he’s good for ratings.

May 27th, 2016

A great big “thank you” to everyone who donated

Pledge week is over. I am deeply grateful for every penny that was donated.

So thank you all, very very much. Of course, even if my official solicitations have ended for now, you can contribute any time the spirit moves you.

And I am deeply grateful to everyone who comments here. Even the lurkers are appreciated, whoever you may be.

As in the chorus to this song:

We’re all in this thing together
Walkin’ the line between faith and fear
This life don’t last forever
When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

May 27th, 2016

The phenomenon of transgendered people

[NOTE: I have previously written at length on the subject of the phenomenon of transgenderism, but I think it’s time for a recap of that post, plus some added photos.]

Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner refers to his/her state as “the new normal,” but transgenderism is actually quite unusual in the statistical sense, and it’s a poorly understood phenomenon as well. Some people think transgendered people are mentally disturbed, and some think they are just people trapped in the wrong body who need a body correction. But either way, it’s a phenomenon that’s neither average nor unremarkable.
Continued »

May 27th, 2016

Violette Verdy in Balanchine’s “Liebeslieder Waltzer”

It’s no secret how highly I think of the late and very great ballet dancer Violette Verdy (here’s a list of my previous posts).

She was exceptional.

I hadn’t seen this video before. It’s a production of Balanchine’s “Liebeslieder Waltzer” from the late 70s. I’ve only seen the ballet one time in person—long long ago, probably in that very era of the 70s—and I don’t remember being particularly taken with it. It’s glorified balletified ballroom dancing, a mood piece that conjures up an era of elegance and restraint. Now that I’m older it appeals more, and of course Verdy is (as always) a revelation.

Note the unusual choreography in this section I’m highlighting (I’ve cued it up to start at 6:55, where the segment I’m referring to begins, and it goes till about 7:38). It’s all about gaze and the delicate emotional nuances between two people:

May 27th, 2016

GOP politicians: no good choices this time around

Until the Indiana primary revealed that the GOP nominee in 2016 would be Donald Trump, I fought that prospect tooth and nail. I did what I could to write about his flaws, and why I saw so many of the other candidates as having both a better chance of winning and a much better chance of being a good president if they won. I had plenty of company in that endeavor, but all our efforts were unsuccessful.

I have not changed my mind about Trump since then. But now that it’s not the primaries we’re facing, but the general, if it comes down to Clinton vs. Trump (and I strongly believe it will) or even Biden vs. Trump, I face a different dilemma.

Any choice feels wrong, and that includes a third party candidate on the right. Unless a very organized third-party campaign by a very strong alternative candidate begin to catch fire today (or preferably many months ago), a vote for that candidate is a vote that helps Hillary Clinton. An abstention is a vote that helps Hillary Clinton. And a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for Donald Trump, a man whose deep and wide flaws both as human being and as potential president I’ve written about ad nauseam.

That’s the dilemma we face, and I blame those who supported Trump in the primaries for putting us there. But that fight is over and done, and there’s no need to beat up on anyone anymore, because there’s no changing the result. Plus many (not all!) of those who supported Trump did so in good faith.

Ever since it became obvious Trump would win, we’ve had the phenomenon of GOP officeholders and/or former candidates jumping on the Trump train. Ben Carson was one of the first, but he certainly isn’t the last. The latest is Marco Rubio, and many people are excoriating him for it (for example, see this from Allahpundit and this by Philip Klein; there are others).

Here’s an excerpt from the latter piece, so you can get the flavor of it:

It’s one thing to begrudgingly argue that as dangerous as he thinks a Trump presidency would be, that he thinks a Clinton presidency would be even worse. But to actually say that he would be “honored” by the chance to speak on Trump’s behalf at the GOP convention, and to downplay his previously stated problems with Trump as mere “policy differences,” is to prove the Rubio skeptics right.

That is, far from being an inspirational moral leader, Rubio has shown himself to be more of an opportunistic politician with his finger to the wind.

Well, if true, that makes him about like 99.99999% of people who run for office.

Let me recap: like the rest of us, all GOP officeholders and former officeholders face the dreadful “Hillary or Trump” dilemma. In fact, politicians face a much more intense version of it, with no good solution. None. Not supporting Trump makes them turncoats, while supporting him (if they previously criticized him) makes them hypocrites. There is no good way out for Rubio (whom the GOP might need to run in Florida in order to have a chance of preserving their Senate majority)—none. He has even more reason than, for example, Rick Perry or Bobby Jindal (both of whom endorsed Trump after excoriating him, with Perry even saying he’d be willing to be his VP) to moderate his previous stance on Trump.

I don’t harshly judge anyone who supports Trump at this point, now that Trump the nominee is virtually a fait accompli. Nor do I harshly judge anyone who doesn’t support him. Both groups have my sympathy—and my understanding, because of my own struggles. And I’m tired of people expecting a rectitude (and degree of martyrdom) from politicians that is completely unrealistic.

Let’s do something novel and take a look at what Rubio actually said rather than what Philip Klein and others say he said [emphasis mine]:

“Yeah, my sense is I’m gonna go to the convention,” Rubio said. “And I don’t know if I’ll have a role in the convention, but I have a lot of people going there that are supporters.”

“Yeah,” Rubio responded when asked if he would speak on Trump’s behalf at the convention. “I wanna be helpful. I don’t wanna be harmful because I don’t want Hillary Clinton to be president.”…

“Look, my policy differences with Donald Trump — I spent 11 months talking about them so I think they’re well understood. That said, I don’t want Hillary Clinton to be president,” he continued. “If there’s something I can do to help that from happening and it’s helpful to the cause, I most certainly would be honored to be considered for that.”

He also said he would release his delegates, though his campaign “basically, technically” has already done so, he explained, “because Donald is gonna have a majority number and at that point it’ll be irrelevant.”

“So, if we haven’t done so already, we will,” he said.

Despite how far he’s willing to go to support the billionaire, it stops at joining his ticket. “In my view, that wouldn’t be the right choice for him,” Rubio said of being chosen as Trump’s running mate. “He’s earned the nomination and deserves to have a running mate that more fully embraces the things he stands for.”

What does Klein expect Rubio to do, repeat again that Trump’s a con man at the same time he says that he’s nevertheless going to support him? That would be absurd. Rubio certainly doesn’t seem to be taking back any of his original criticisms, nor does he praise Trump as a fine man and a wonderful candidate, as people usually do when they support someone.

And no, Rubio did not say he’d be honored to speak on behalf of Trump (unless I missed something; I can’t find a full text), he says he’d be honored to speak in furtherance of the cause of stopping Hillary Clinton from becoming president. Take a look once again:

“I don’t want Hillary Clinton to be president,” Rubio continued. “If there’s something I can do to help that from happening and it’s helpful to the cause, I most certainly would be honored to be considered for that.”

Pretty explicit, pretty clear. It’s to stop Hillary. Period.

May 26th, 2016

The hiker and the compass

Here is a terribly sad story:

An Appalachian Trail hiker whose remains were discovered last year survived at least 26 days after getting lost, kept a journal of her ordeal and ultimately resigned herself to the idea she was going to die and it could be years before her remains were located, according to investigatory documents…

“When you find my body, please call my husband George … and my daughter Kerry,” Largay, who was 66 years old, wrote in a page that was torn out of her journal. “It will be the greatest kindness for them to know that I am dead where you found me — no matter how many years from now.”…

[Geraldine] Largay, who went by the nickname Inchworm, got lost after leaving the trail on July 22, 2013, to relieve herself and set up her final camp the next day, wardens said. Her texts to her husband warning that she’d become lost were never delivered but were retrieved from her phone after her body was found.

I don’t recall this story from 2013, although it has a local New England angle because Largay got lost in Maine and a huge and lengthy search was mounted, to no avail. Until her body and journal were found, no one knew the cause of her disappearance or whether she had met with foul play.

If you read many of the comments to that article or others on the same topic, as I did, you’ll see that interspersed with the notes of sympathy and prayer are ones that question her judgment. How could she have gotten so badly lost that way? Why did she continue to hike alone after a friend she had started out with bailed?

The second question is probably more easily answered: lots of hikers hike alone, and Largay had hiked many times before (although I couldn’t discover whether she’d ever hiked alone before). As far as the first question goes, a great many people mentioned that in the heavily-wooded east if you go off the trail even a little way it’s very easy to get hopelessly lost unless you have the tools to get unlost. So I noticed in the comments sections that there were a lot of hikers asking why Largay hadn’t carried a compass, a very basic directional tool that could have helped her get out of the terrible mess she was in.

That seemed an excellent question, and I wondered whether she in fact had taken along a compass and if there had been some problem with using it. It took me a while to locate any information on that, but I struck pay dirt here:

Also in the report – testimony from friends and family including Largay’s husband George, and Jane Lee – her best friend who was initially supposed to hike with Largay, but was called away for a family emergency.

Lee told wardens that Largay had a poor sense of direction, and she wasn’t sure she even knew how to use a compass.

What does this mean? Largay was a very experienced hiker. I am not one, to say the least, so my question for all of you out there who might be experienced is: is it not standard to carry a compass? It’s small and easy to use, right? Would a compass not make it a relatively simple matter to get out of a situation such as Largay unfortunately found herself in? And if a person doesn’t carry one, why would that person choose not to do so? My tentative theory is that many of us have grown so reliant on things like cell phones to get us out of a jam that many of the older, more obvious, and simpler things are being neglected.


May 26th, 2016

Four warning signs

If you’re like me, you keep getting spam emails with enticing come-ons like “Would you like to know the four subtle warning signs that you’re near death from [fill in the blank]?” Or, “Would you like to know how to look 30 years younger in 10 seconds?” or “…how to lose your belly fat?”

Well, who wouldn’t?

Have you ever fallen for it and clicked on the link? In moments of weakness, I have. The ensuing experience is always the same. Someone—a doctor, a spokesperson—appears in a video and tells you what he/she is going to tell you. “I’m going to tell you this heretofore secret information about how you can energize/smooth out/avoid…” and he or she goes on and on and on till you find yourself shrieking, “Don’t tell us what you’re going to tell us. Get on with telling us, already, you friggin’ torturer!!!

Every single video also uses the following format: nowhere does it say how long it is, or how many minutes have elapsed and how many are left. There’s no sense of time at all. The person has all day—don’t you? And the longer he or she goes on telling you what he will soon be telling you (soon, soon!!), the more reluctant you are to leave—abysmally stupid though you now feel for having been sucked into this mess—because you have already invested way too much time in this worthless endeavor, and you are surely at least getting closer to the revelation of the secret, right? But first, this person in the video—whom you have grown to detest—is determined to give you the whole furshlugginer story and then some, complete with little squiggly diagrams.

I have never lasted to the bitter end of any of them. Perhaps I’ve never even lasted till the middle—but since we don’t know how long they really are, I have no way of knowing where the middle is. Perhaps they just play in an endless, sadistic loop.

May 26th, 2016

Donald Trump has clinched…

the GOP nomination—which is not really news, is it? We’ve known this was pretty much inevitable ever since Indiana.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton’s email troubles seem to be deepening. The weaker she becomes as a candidate, the more it is likely that (a) she will be replaced (although I’ve always said this almost certainly won’t happen, I could be wrong); or, if she is not replaced, that (b) Trump will be the victor in November. The latter possibility is one I’ve always seen as a longshot, too, with the caveat unless Clinton significantly weakens.

Which she is doing.

However, the Hillary-supporters I know (some are reluctant supporters), would never vote for Trump no matter what she was found to have done. I don’t know how typical they are, but there doesn’t seem to be anything all that unusual about them.

What a long strange trip is it likely to remain.

May 25th, 2016

Last call for my current fundraiser

[Please SCROLL DOWN for newer posts. This is my last call for fundraising this cycle. I usually do this two times a year, but there’s no reason you have to limit yourselves to pledge drive time. I give profuse thanks to all who have donated—I cannot fully express how very much I appreciate it.
Continued »

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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