Saturday, September 23, 2017

Neglected Geniuses

Hey, here's a group that discusses the history of the Roman and Byzantine state. "...from 753 BC to AD 1475." Oh. No. No, no, no, no. The link to the group shows a picture which they say is of Constantius II's entry into Rome in AD 357. Constantius II did visit Rome in 357. But when was this picture made? I'm guessing 19th or 20th century. I'm also guessing that I could find out more quickly when and by whom the picture was made by researching it myself than by asking the members of the group, and that my asking would probably mostly have the effect of annoying them.

Hey, look at this: Vinča symbols. Never heard of them? Me neither, before yesterday. And yet these people (not the same people as in the previous paragraph) are saying they're a writing system going back to -- 5300 BC? And that there's a bias among academics who study early writing against paying any attention to them? Oh dear. Actual academics simply don't behave that way. They don't cover up plausible discoveries which would "rock the boat." They're boat rockers. The key word there was "plausible."

How many people are there who think that they are geniuses and that their genius is neglected, for every neglected genius? I don't have an actual number for you, but it's a lot.

And Albert Einstein was not a neglected genius: he started publishing papers in the Annalen der Physik, the pre-eminent academic publication on physics at the time, around his 22nd birthday, in 1901, four years before his most famous group of papers were published in the same journal. In 1905, not only were those papers published, but Einstein also received a PhD from the University of Zurich. Although he was working in a patent office at the time, not taking courses at the university or anything like that. He got the Nobel Prize when he was 42 or 43. (He was chosen to receive it in 1921 but it wasn't awarded to him until the next year.) That is not neglect by the academic establishment. That is not by any stretch of the imagination neglect. That is almost as far from being rejected by the academic mainstream as anyone could ever be. Yes, there were people who rejected Einstein's findings, many laypeople outside the field of physics and just a handful within, but they would not have rejected his findings if he hadn't been a rock star within his field. Because they probably never would have heard of him, for one thing, and they would have had no reason to get so upset about his being, in their mistaken opinions, completely, absurdly wrong about space and time and matter and energy. People who are completely, absurdly wrong are a dime a dozen in every walk of life. Someone you think is completely, absurdly wrong, but most of the rest of the world thinks they're a genius -- that's different. That can be very annoying.

I imagine it would be all the more annoying if the annoyed person felt him- or herself to be a neglected genius.

The ones who thought that they were unrecognized geniuses were the ones who vehemently rejected Einstein's ideas. And they weren't geniuses. The geniuses understood Einstein and were blown away. Leading directly to the previously-mentioned condition of him not being neglected in the slightest, but wildly celebrated and one of the two or three most famous people in the world.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Dokument

Ein starker Geist diskutiert Ideen.
Ein durchschnittlicher Geist diskutiert Ereignisse.
Ein schwacher Geist diskutiert Leute.
Sokrates.

Steven Bollinger Sokrates redet dummes Zeug und Platoniker duerfen mich gern fuer schwachgeistig halten. Wenn jemand maechtig ist, wie ein Regierungschef oder ein Philosoph der das Denken eines grossen Teils der Welt seit ueber 2000 Jahren stark beeinfluesst, dann SOLLEN die Leute ueber ihn reden. Nicht zu tun waere verantwortungslos.
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· Reply · 11 mins · Edited

Steven Bollinger Noch etwas faellt mir ein:

"Ein starker Geist diskutiert Ideen.
Ein durchschnittlicher Geist diskutiert Ereignisse.
Ein schwacher Geist diskutiert Leute."

Sokrates redet da ueber Leute. Sah er selbst nicht ein, dass er das tat?
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· Reply · 12 mins

Steven Bollinger Und, was mir als erstes einfaellen muesste: ist das wirklich ein Zitat von Sokrates? Facebook wimmelt von falsch zugeordneten Zitaten.
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· Reply · 9 mins

Steven Bollinger Nicht Sokrates, sondern Henry Thomas Buckle. Ich bitte Sokrates um Entschuldigung. Quote Investigator.

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Schafft ab! (Eliminate it!)

Yay! At 8:27 AM today I had already blocked my first Facebook user of the day! (Not counting a German sexbox offering friendship which I had already marked as spam.) He was replying to my comment about Felix Philipp Ingold's call in the Neuer Zuercher Zeitung to eliminate the juries which award literary prizes -- "Schafft die Juries ab!" I had said that it was not clear to me me whether Ingold wanted to replace the juries with, or if he was calling for literary prizes themselves to be eliminated, or if he was just there to complain.

This Facebook user wrote that he who wants to misunderstand or twist something will do so, ignored my very specific description of what was unclear to me, and asked me just exactly what was unclear to me.

He who wants to be nothing but unhelpful, antagonistic and annoying will be so. And will often secretly consider himself to be a genius.

By the way, no one else has answered my comment at all. I can only assume that they're all too busy doing important work, or that, although it's as clear as can be that Ingold doesn't want these juries as they are, no-one knows any better than I do what he actually does want.

While checking the NZZ website to make sure I spelled Ingold's name correctly, I saw a link to a piece by Peter Sloterdijk on the upcoming German election. This article was followed on the web page by the claim: "Peter Sloterdijk zaehlt zu den bedeutenden Philosophen der Gegenwart." ("Peter Sloterdijk is among the important philosophers of the present day.")

I hadn't completely stopped reading things by and about Peter Sloterdijk after reading his winterliche Reise



more than 20 years ago, but I had slowed way, way down. And so it came as a great surprise to me to learn that he is now a philosopher. Let alone one of the important ones of our day. One certainly wouldn't have learned that Sloterdijk is a philosopher from this piece he dashed off for the NZZ, in which he claims that Angela Merkel has such a chloroform-effect, putting all who see or hear her soundly asleep, that the Germans need mnemonic devices to remind them of when the upcoming election is. It's this coming Sunday, 24 September 2017. Contrary to Sloterdijk's claim, I didn't have to look the date up, nor have I remembered it with the aid of mnemonic devices.

There seems to be a widespread "eliminate it!"-mood among German intellectuals. Ingold wants to eliminate the juries which award literary prizes. Other want to remove curators from art galleries and museums. Sloterdijk wants to eliminate Merkel's ability to put everyone into a deep sleep. (Clearly he can't eliminate it: poor thing, he can't even describe it convincingly.)

Yes, there is a great (from certain perspectives) mood of "Schafft ab!" ("Eliminate it!") Right on. But what will we replace the juries, or the curators, or Merkel, with? These complaints might be more convincing to me if I had the slightest idea what is being suggested as a replacement in each case. But I'm not even sure that such suggestions are being made.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Update on My Seiko 5

This is my Seiko 5, photographed today:


There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Actually, it's a little bit less like most than it used to be. I showed photographs of it on this blog with its original khaki-green canvas strap; then in between straps; then with the black leather strap I put on it because the original strap was just slightly to short to fit my wrist.

But I decided I'd rather carry it in my pocket than wear it on my wrist, and that photo above shows how it is now: no strap, and also no push-pins. Removing the push-pins, which I did a week or two ago, lets me feel the bevels -- not bezels: bevels -- underneath where the push-pins were. I didn't even see the bevels before I removed the push-pins. They feel nice. Removing the push-pins has definitely enhanced the aesthetic experience of the watch for me.

And there's also no plastic film on the back anymore. Just like new cell phones, some new watches these days come with plastic film covering the glassy parts. I took the film off of the front, but it took me 9 months, until today, to realize that I'd left the film on the back window. I had thought that there was a little imperfection in the window, a little bubble in the glass, barely visible, near the edge where it sez "7S26." But no, what I thought was a bubble in the glass was a bubble in the plastic film. The film I didn't even realize was still there until today.

I have mixed feelings: yes, I had thought that there a small imperfection, a bubble, in the glass of the back window. But I had gradually come to sort of like that bubble. It made my Seiko 5 different than others.

But there never was any bubble in the glass at all. Now, with the plastic film removed, I can't find any imperfections anywhere on the watch.

(I got this thing for $54.19, including delivery & state sales tax, from Amazon. Which is simply ridiculous. I almost feel guilty having this much watch for that little money. Seiko cares about quality.)

(Yeah, and it's still keeping pretty good time.)

(Prices for Seiko 5's on Amazon have gone up slightly in the last 9 months. Well, actually, the prices go up and down and up and down, and at any given moment, 4 Seiko 5's with canvas straps which are identical except for color will usually have 4 different prices. Why? I don't know.)

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Amanda, I Wanna Be Yr Panda

Amanda

I wanna be yr paaaaaan -- da.

Oh. Uh.

Manda

A big silly bear of a man ta

Make you laugh with my clumsiness and snugglin

Amanda

It could be grand -- uh

If I were yr panda

(Amanda

This guy rilly wants to be yr panda

A great big silly harmless guy to rub yr feet n be real sweet n cook you uh treat n dance with his feet

N give you his heeeearrrrt

Amanda

He rilly rilly rilly rilly rilly rilly wants to be yr panda)

Amanda

Won't you put yr hand -- uh

In mine

Yr so fine n I just

Gotta be yr panda!

Amanda!

I'm making my staaaaand -- uh

Out. on. the. sand. of. the. beach.

I. will. stroll. with. youunderthemoon

Amanda

My love isn't canned -uh

It's fresh and genuine

Amanda

I'd love to be yr panda

Amanda

I think you understand -- uh

Amanda

Ooh I gotsa be yr panda

Amanda

But I'll never demand -- uh

A thing cause I want ya to be happy and free

Amanda

Pleez pleez pleez pleez lemme be yr panda

Amanda

Monday, September 11, 2017

Have Watches Become Art?

In roughly chronological order:

Oscar Wilde published The Picture of Dorian Gray, with a Preface which ends with the flat statement: "All art is quite useless."

I was born.

The 4th edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 2, was published. It contains the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray on pp 1681-82. It does not contain any more of The Picture of Dorian Gray.

I was required several times in school and college to read works by Oscar Wilde, including, more than once, The Picture of Dorian Gray, including its Preface, with whose conclusion I disagreed. For most of my life I quite disliked Wilde.


I got a copy of the 5th edition, of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, for a college class. It's much shorter than the combined 2 volumes of the unabridged version. I have no idea whether it contains the preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray. I still own but I can't find it at the moment.

Quartz watches -- watches powered by batteries or some other electrical source, such as light converted to electricity -- reached the point where they kept much better time than mechanical watches -- watches powered by springs -- at a much lower cost.

I saw the movie An Ideal Husband, based on Wilde's play of the same name. It has been filmed at least 4 times: I saw the 1999 version, directed by Oliver Parker, starring Jeremy Northam, Rupert Everett, Julianne Moore, Minnie Driver and Cate Blanchett. I saw it several years after 1999, on TV, primarily because of Ms Blanchett, about whom I am daffy. Ms Blanchett is particularly adorable in this film. But I liked more than Ms Blanchett, I liked the entire film very much, definitely including those words written by Mr Wilde. I instantly went from being a loather of Wilde to being a huge fan. I re-read the Preface to The Picture of Dorian Gray and began to seriously wonder whether art is indeed useless. I have not stopped thinking about it. At the present I would agree, if we stipulate that Wilde was being somewhat ironic when he wrote that. Art is not useful in the same way as other things. I agree with Nietzsche that art makes life bearable, which means that it is extremely useful indeed; but still, it is not useful in the same way as other things.

I got the 4th edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 2, either free because some place like a university was giving it away, or for a dollar or so a thrift shop, I don't remember. I've only got volume 2.

The Coen brothers' film version of Carmac McCarthy's novel No Country For Old Men was released in 2007. The film is set in 1980. The character portrayed by Josh Brolin carries a wrist watch in his pocket. If the film is historically accurate in this detail, it is a mechanical watch. The title of the movie and novel comes from a line in the poem "Sailing to Byzantium" by William Butler Yeats. Like Wilde, Yeats was born in Ireland. Wilde moved to England, where he ingratiated himself with the upper classes. Yeats stayed in Ireland and supported the fight for independence from England.

I began to become fascinated by watches. Mostly by pocket watches at first;


but the more I learn about watches, the more my interest is captured by wrist watches rather than pocket watches, because watches -- mechanical watches. I couldn't tell you much about quartz watches -- keep becoming more sophisticated and precise and interesting, even as they become farther and farther away from being necessary or practical. There ares till some mechanical pocket watches being produced today, but as far as I can see, most of them are presented as objects of nostalgia, designed to remind people of bygone eras when most watches were pocket watches, rather than to closely resemble the most modern products of the watchmaker's -- art.

Ha! Right there I said "art." I was never drawn to pocket watches because I'm nostalgic. I like them because I'd rather carry a watch in my pocket than wear it on my wrist, and pocket watches are designed to be carried that way. But almost all of the really interesting stuff in watchmaking is going on in mechanical wrist watches. Which, as good as they are getting, are still much more expensive than quartz watches which keep better time.

But let's face it, very few if any people actually need quartz watches either, what with all of the online devices which keep even better time, which almost all of us use to one extent or another.

And then, earlier today, my interest in watches, which I freely admit serve no practical use, and are only good for fascinating people and making them feel good, clanged together with Wilde's statement that all art is quite useless. And I said to myself, "Hey -- does that mean that watches have become art, or are becoming art?!"

And then I rushed over here to tell you all about it -- first checking the 4th edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, volume 2, to make sure that I got the quote by Wilde right.

PS, 11 Sep 2017: I found it, the version of The Norton Anthology of English Literature which I got for use an an undergrad. And once again we see how faulty is my memory: it is not called the shorter edition, but the Major Authors Edition. And it is not the 5th edition, but the 3rd. And Wilde is not in it AT ALL. It judges 31 English authors, from the author of Beowulf to Auden, to be Major. But not Wilde. Well, as we know, these things are not only quite useless, but also completely subjective.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

SPOILER ALERT: The Ends of Twin Peaks: The Return and Game of Thrones, Season 7

I mean it: spoiler alert. You should watch both of these fine series before reading further.

Well, for one thing, obviously, the 2 series are very different: "Game of Thrones" means to please a broad public, and succeeds, while "Twin Peaks: The Return" may be made to please just David Lynch, and if it also pleases someone else, so much the better. I'm guessing about Lynch's intentions vis a vis his audience; but there's no denying that "Twin Peaks: The Return" is difficult to understand. And the final part of the final episode is a real head-scratcher. I won't say that the ending the most difficult head-scratcher in the series. I mean, I'm not going to pretend that I can actually explain the Black Lodge to you. Or the various dopplegaengers. Or the part with atomic bombs and strange humanoid creatures in episode 8 which just went on and on and on.

Maybe it's a mistake even to want to explain a show like this. Most of us are able to enjoy music without a lot of explanation about what it means. Maybe a lot of Lynch's work should be approached in the same way, without needing to be explained. Speaking of music, before I, despite what I just said, try to explain the end of the last episode, let me just point out how magnificent the music is in Twin Peaks: The Return, both the theme music and the acts which perform at the roadhouse. And of the latter, let me just say that I found Rebekah Del Rio's performance of "No Stars" at the end of episode 10 to be one of the most wonderful things I've ever heard. Ever. Up there with a really good performance of the 2nd movement of Beethoven 14th piano sonata or Pachelbel's canon. That one song alone much more than made up, for me, for how much episode 8 aggravated me. And the theme music was part of what made one of the nicest moments in the history of show biz: the moment in episode 16 when the real Agent Cooper, having just recently woke up, smiles and says, "I am the FBI." Admit it, that moment gave you chills. (In a good way.)

Now to try to explain the ending of episode 18, the last episode, the final moment of "Twin Peaks" ever, unless Lynch makes some more "Twin Peaks," and I have no idea whether he will or not: Cooper takes Laura Palmer to the house she lived in until she was murdered in 1990, the people who live there now have never heard of her family, Cooper asks what year it is, Laura screams, the end.

It seems to me that mistreatment of women by men is an important theme in "Twin Peaks." The plot of the original series in the early 90's is set in motion by Laura's murder and Cooper's investigation of it. Episode 15 of the 2017 series ends with a small woman wearing thick glasses being thrown out of a booth in the roadhouse by two very large men. She crawls on the floor for a while and then screams, a scream not unlike Laura's scream at the end of the whole series. In episode 18, the last episode, when 3 men in Judy's harass a waitress, Cooper shoots one of them in the foot, badly injures another and seems quite ready to shoot the 3rd one if necessary. Then, at Laura's apartment (Okay: she's not named Laura now, she's named Carrie. I can't explain that.), Cooper sees a man sitting in a chair. The man is dead, he's been shot in the head, and Cooper doesn't even say a word about the dead man. The mistreatment of women has become so established as a theme of the show that it's as if Cooper simply assumes that Laura/Carrie shot the man, and that she had a perfectly good reason for doing so.

And there are many other instances in the series of men treating women badly. And when Cooper goes back in time to the night Laura was murdered to rescue her, Laura is with James, one of the relatively few decent men in the show who are kind to women. Laura loves James, she says so, she screams it, but she also seems quite frustrated with him. Maybe that's because he can't protect her. And maybe Laura/Carrie screams at the end of the whole series because she is beginning to suspect that Cooper, another decent man, might not to be much good as a protector, seeing as how he's driven her all the way across the country to this strange place and doesn't even know what year it is. And there are many other instances in the series of women being drawn to bad men, while being loved by men who are good, but, unfortunately, ineffectual. Maybe there's a message here to good men: get up off your asses and fight for things that are right, like women being treated nicely.

Plus, Cooper has taken her back to the place where she was murdered. Maybe it reminds Laura/Carrie that she's Laura and that she was killed here, so maybe that's why the big scream. The subtitle of the 2017 is "The Return." Agent Cooper's entire purpose since he woke up has been to save Laura, but maybe he completely, monumentally failed, because all he did was return Laura/Carrie to the scene of a horror she was fleeing.

I don't know whether I've explained anything.

With "Game of Thrones," I don't have to explain anything. You just need to watch the whole series to get the story and characters, and if you're confused about something, 47 billion people have watched it, so just ask one of us. I just wanted to say that the very end of Season 7, where the dragon which the Night King has killed and resurrected as one of his undead army, spews blue fire which destroys the wall -- that scene, with its combination of story and acting and special effects and music, is one of the most amazing, rousing things I've ever seen on any TV or movie screen, and needs no explaining. Much like the way that the Knights of the Veil arrived and joined the Battle of the Bastards in last year's season 6. Just wow.

So which series do I like better, the artsy "Twin Peaks: The Return" or the pop "Game of Thrones"? That question is impossible to answer because the 2 shows are so entirely different. I like them both.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Waiting For the Republicans to Decide They've Had Enough of Trump

I'm a Barry Bonds fan. (I know, I know. But he played baseball well.) His last season was 2007. Around 2009 I stopped kidding myself about his use of banned substances. To this very day, there are quite a number of people -- mostly from the SF area -- who believe that Bonds never broke any rules. So I guess I can kind of imagine what it's like to be a Republican who still supports Trump although he damn well knows better. What I'm saying is that I know something about what it's like to be deeply in denial.

And let's not forget those Republicans who are completely, 100% against Trump. On the news-talk programs, all along, some of the most emphatic and uninhibited of Trump's detractor's have been Republican's, calling him sick, crazy, a disgrace, etc, even more than the Democrats do. The only problem is that not one of those particularly-uninhibited Republicans is, as far as I know, currently holding public office. They're Republican strategists and former office holders and Glenn Beck, and so forth.

Trump Jr. Says He Wanted Russian Dirt to Determine Clinton’s ‘Fitness’ for Office, reads a headline from the New York Times about Donald Trump Jr's testimony before a Senate investigative committee today, about the meeting which he said was about a program for adopting orphans, before leaks proved that it was about Clinton.

Recently, according to leaks, Congressman Duncan Hunter, R-California, said of Trump: "He's an ---hole, but he's our ---hole." What makes Hunter's statement notable is that he was one of the first prominent Republicans to support Trump's campaign for President.

Oh, by the way: Congressman Hunter, a 2nd-generation Congressman, is currently under criminal investigation by the Justice Department It is alleged that his misappropriated tens of thousands of dollars' worth of campaign campaign contributions. Some of that misappropriation including somethat about giving a pet rabbit an airplane ride. I don't know if that means that Hunter bought the rabbit a seat instead of making it ride in the cargo hold as animals routinely do, or what. But whatever it was, it fell outside the laws governing what campaign contributions can and cannot be used for.

Anyway, this fine gentleman's statement about how Trump is an asshole may be a sign that even some of the hardcore baseball is starting to say, Yeah, I know, I know...

Remember, we don't need any of the hardcore base to get on board in order to remove Trump from office. We don't even need all of the Republicans. A few dozen Republican Congresspeople and and about 10 Republican Senators would do it. Or Trump's Cabinet in the case of the 25th Amendment.

Waiting, waiting, for that damn ship to sink. Waiting for you, Republicans. Waiting, waiting.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Burgers of the Foodies

I've never been to a Fatburger or an In-N-Out Burger. This is less surprising when you reflect that I have not been in California since... 1985?! Can that be? Yeah, I think that be. But lookit that: In-N-Out Burger recently opened a burger place about 5 miles away from me! So am I on the way there?

No. I've recently had burgers at 2 local spots which are legendary among burger snobs. In fact, both places have been featured on the Food Network and one even has a plaque given to it by Alton Brown saying that its mac-n-cheese is the best comfort food in the Yoo Ess Ay. And I really like that mac-n-cheese very much.

But I didn't really like the burgers much from either place. It's just me: both places have long lines of people waiting to get in much of the time, and a lot of the people in those like are there for burgers.

At the place that got the plaque from Alton, I saw on the menu that some of their patties were from grass-fed cattle and the rest were fed both grass and grain. I wanted all-grain but they didn't have any. Since then I've got it straight that foodies prefer grass-fed. I had that backwards at the time. On the same menu, after I ordered the most recent burger I've eaten there, I saw on their list of cheeses that they compared one of them to Gruyere. I love Gruyere. The cheese I got didn't really melt the way you want cheese to melt on a burger. I don't know how much of a difference that would've made in my enjoyment of the burger.

It's not even that I dislike burgers in general. For example: recently I saw in Kroger that I could get a box of frozen White Castle sliders. I got that box, and since then I've gotten several more. Get a box of those sliders with cheese, microwave a couple of 'em and put lots of ketchup on them, and I'm very happy.

Maybe I and foodies generally disagree about what is or isn't a good burger. It wouldn't be the only such disagreement, although I and foodies tend to agree generally about what is really nummers, like with the above-mentioned mac-n-cheese. Another one of the rare disagreements: there's the Parmesan cheese that comes grated in green cylinders, and then there's the much more expensive stuff which comes in pre-grated chunks and is actually from in or around Parma, Italy. Foodies greatly prefer the expensive stuff and say that the stuff in the green cylinders is nasty. (In Europe, only the stuff from Parma is allowed to be called Parmesan.) But I prefer the stuff in the green cylinders.

(Kroger's store brand Parmesan cheese comes in green cylinders which look very much like Kraft, which is more expensive. At Kroger's, I get the store brand. At other stores, I get the store brand, which usually comes in cylinders which aren't green. Except on the very rare case when Kraft is on sale so drastically that it's actually cheaper than the store brand. Kraft doesn't taste better than the store brands to me. I imagine factories with huge piles of grated Parmesan cheese, and part of one and the same pile goes into Kraft's cylinders and part goes into the general packages. Am I wrong?)

If and when I finally eat a Fatburger or an In-N-Out burger, will I think they're fantastic? Who knows. What about an Umami Burger? No idea. What about the burger from Father's Office which you can only get one way with no condiment options, with carmelized onions, bacon, Gruyere and blue cheese and arugula? I can respect a no-options policy if a chef feels really strongly about it, and I love all of those ingredients, but I don't know whether they would be enough to make me like a burger of the foodies.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Trump, and Capitalism's Reputation in the US

It appears that John Kelly may have had enough of Donald Trump already, after just 5 weeks as his Chief of Staff. Anonymous sources say that after a recent Trump meltdown directed at Kelly, Kelly told other White House staffers that he had never been spoken to that way in 35 years of service to the US, and that he didn't intend to put up with more of the same. So, that might mean that Kelly is about to resign, or that he's about to look Trump in the eye and tell him to shut his pie-hole. Which might get him fired.

Well, that's our Donald, isn't it? Just making friends wherever he goes. A lot of people are paying close attention to Trump's behavior as President, and asking themselves how in the world he managed to have a career as a businessman for so long before becoming President. I think that the answer may be that his career up until January of this year was as a pure capitalist.

Now, many people are capitalists, but few are pure capitalists, in the sense that making money is honestly the only thing they care about. Most of us care a lot about money, because we live in a capitalist system, which means that only those with a lot of money can afford to pay little attention to it -- and even those, if they pay little enough attention to it, may run out of it, meaning that they will be forced to pay as much attention to it as us poor schlubs.

The thing is, though, very few of us care only about money. We may care quite a lot about our friendships and relationships, or music, or animals, or painting, or food or wine or mechanical watches or sunsets or trees, or some combination of those things and/or many others, without consideration of financial ramifications. An expert on pino grigio or Mexican food may make a living through that expertise, but there's very little chance that they study the wine or the food only for the money. In fact, it's just about guaranteed that they love the food or the wine passionately and would spend a lot of time on it even if they lost money on it rather than making money. Many people, probably most people, aren't lucky enough to be able to make a living at something they love, but they still spend a lot of time and energy on things that don't earn them money. Friends and family are a very common example, and then there all the other things I just listed off, and many more. It's very rare to come across someone who really only cares about making money.

And yet, the only thing rewarded by capitalism is a focus on money and money alone. Capitalism is only concerned with quantity. Quality -- of life, or of anything else -- is not capitalism's concern. We think of our society as a capitalist society, and yet almost all of us spend a lot of time behaving in ways which are contrary to the principles of capitalism -- excuse me, I should say say: contrary to the principle of capitalism, because there's only one: get yours, and then got more, and then repeat, and never stop.

Anybody who has thought about this a lot, and realized that capitalism by itself comes very short of fulfilling all of our wishes and ambitions, is already to some degree a socialist, whether he or she suffers from the typical American ignorance of what socialism is and horror of the term "socialism," or not. I was thinking here about pino grigio and Mexican food because, on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel, I've been struck by one particular sort of bio among highly-regarded chefs: they used to work in finance, and they gave that up to make the plunge into trying to cook for a living. Those people are a clear example of rejecting capitalism for socialism, at least partially. If they were really all about money, they'd just go back to their former jobs, done. They've realized -- even if they haven't realized it consciously, because they're constantly bombarded by American pro-capitalist myths in advertising and many other places -- that there's much more to life than how big your stack is.

And then there are horrible assholes like Donald Trump, and the AIDS medication douchebag, who really, truly care about very little except getting theirs, and then getting more, and repeat. This makes them horrible people, and, at the same time, very efficient capitalists, just by virtue of being distracted by so very little else except getting theirs, and then getting some more, and then repeat. The AIDS medication douchebag is so repulsively smug, even as he has been convicted of fraud and awaits sentencing, because he knows that all he has done is what our society says you should do: get yours, etc. He doesn't realize to what extent our society -- in most cases subconsciously -- rejects capitalism, because we -- usually subconsciously -- realize that pure capitalism results in people like our current President and the AIDS medication douchebag. People whom we reject with horror.

And so, I would suggest that those who are flabbergasted by the fact that Trump was able to survive for so long as a businessman, before beginning his spectacular failure as a politician, think more about money and capitalism, think more about what they are, and how horribly overrated they are in the US, how we give capitalism and horrible capitalist douchebags far too much power.

At least read some Marx before continuing to react with horror to what you think Marxism and socialism is. At least get some clue about what it is you're reacting against. For about half of the 68 years of the Federal Republic of Germany so far, the Chancellor, the Bundeskanzler, the closest equivalent they have to the US President, has been a member of the Social Democratic Party, the SPD. The SPD is the oldest currently-active political party in Germany, going back under different names to the 1860's. Karl Marx was a member. The SPD isn't very different from the Democratic Party in the US. They're somewhat more conscious of the nature of capitalism.

Perhaps the horrible catastrophe of the Trump administration will cause Americans in general to become more conscious of such things, and more critical of capitalism on a conscious level.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Beware of People Telling You Watches Are a Good Investment

For example, Shreve & Co:

"For some, watches are purely functional. You look at them, the time is more-or-less correct, and you tuck it back under your sleeve."

That was 50 years ago. Today, those people don't have watches at all. If they need to know the time they look at their phones.

They go on to tell you that, judging from current auction activity, a high-quality watch, a watch which is much more than a timekeeper, could rise in value 30 to 40% over 10 years.

30 to 40% in 10 years, as a best-case scenario, is not a great investment. There are mutual funds that will just about guarantee that sort of return as a worst-case scenario.

Real estate is an investment. But fewer people care about watches than they did decades ago, whether as a purely functional timekeeper, or a neat gadget which is fun to have, or as a hand-crafted luxury item which is a thing of beauty, or any which way. And there's no indication that that trend is about to reverse, and that in the future more people will wear and/or collect watches. Fewer people being interested in watches in any way means fewer customers competing to buy them, which means that their prices are more liable to go down as they age, than up. And that's as true for a luxury watch you buy today, as for a cheap piece of junk.

You can rack your brains and study and study, and maybe you'll end up buying one of those watches which will rise 30 or 40% in the next 10 years. Or you can make a no-brainer decision on a mutual fund and beat 40% easy. Or you could buy a building or some land, take a risk and maybe some upkeep headaches as well, but there's a very good chance that you could clean up.

The only good reason to buy a watch is the voice in your headache that keeps screaming that you have to have it. Don't have such a voice in your head? Then don't let someone tell you watches are a good investment. If you do love watches, you should get the one you love -- not the one someone tells you is a good investment, and also not the one that someone else, who you're afraid is much cooler than you, tells you is the coolest one, but the one which you like the best.

Now, it's possible that your family have been manufacturing and selling fine watches for over 300 years, and that you know far more about watches than I could ever learn in 20 lifetimes, and that, besides watches themselves, knowledge of watch markets and booms and busts in those markets, and knowledge of the psychology of watch buyers, is in your very DNA. If all of that is true of you, then for you, quite possibly, watches, which you buy and hold onto for years or decades because you know their prices will skyrocket, could be a good investment. But if you're that person, you certainly didn't need the likes of me to tell you that for most people, a plan to amass wealth by buying Rolexes and Patek Phillippes, or antique watches of one brand or another, is just plain silly.

The Iohannidos of Corippus

The Iohannidos, or Song of John, of Flavius Cresconius Corippus, is unusual is several ways: an epic poem in Latin in the Vergilian style, celebrating the warlike deeds of a hero, it was written in the mid to late 6th century, almost 2 centuries after the last known ancient examples of Classical Latin. Based on its style, it must be considered Classical Latin; however, based on its date, it was composed well into the Medieval era. It was written in or around Carthage. Much else written in the same time and place has survived to our day; however, almost all of it is Christian theology, as different from the Iohannidos as can be. Most earlier Latin epics such as Vergil's Aeneid included copious references to the pagan gods. These are lacking in Corippus' poem. Some have pointed to this as evidence that Corippus was Christian. I'm not convinced. A pagan or an atheist in the 6th-century Roman Empire would have been taking a big risk by letting his true beliefs show.

The hero of the poem is John Troglita, a general who served under the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I during Justinian's short-lived reconquest of much of the former Western Roman Empire. John led a series of successful battles against nomadic peoples in northwestern Africa, including the Berbers. Corippus' poem follows these battles up until AD 548. Historians value it for its accuracy of detail, confirmed by comparison with writers contemporary to Corippus and by what we know of the modern-day Berbers.

It is unusual in being an account of Justinian's war written in Latin, as opposed to Greek.

Also, the way in which the text of the Iohannidos has been transmitted to us is unusual. It was known that Corippus had written such a poem; however, it was lost until the year 1814, when Cardinal Mazzucchelli, librarian of the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, came across a 14th-century manuscript of it. Before this, another of Corripus' works was known: In laudem Iustini minoris (In Praise of the Younger Justin), which portrayed the death of Justinian I and the early part of the reign of his successor, Justin II. This work was published in the late 16th century from a 9th- or 10th-century manuscript. No one seems actually to have liked as a piece of writing by. It is, frankly, a rather disgusting piece of servile flattery. The hope to gain the favor of the powerful is clearly its entire object on the part of the author; nevertheless, it is very well -written, and, like the Johinnodos, it contain much information of interest to historians -- in this case, information about the 6th-century court at Constantinople and its manners ans customs. (And I suppose it's possible that the powerful men Corippus flattered in the poem actually enjoyed reading it.)

Having been the only known work by Corippus for a long while, the In laudem Iustini minoris in no way prepared readers for the great positive surprise of the Iohannidos, which is a great pleasure to read, with its polished style conveying a rousing tale of action and adventure with convincingly lifelike characters. People would want to read this poem even if it contained no historical interest at all. The great help it lends to historians is gravy. The great interest to scholars of Classical Latin, finding such a polished work so written so late after such things had been assumed to have died out, is gravy. Is it as good as Vergil? Well, no. But if you like Lucan's epic poem of the struggle between Julius Caesar and Pompey, you might very well like the Iohannidos just as much.

Oh, and one other unusual thing about the Iohannidos: the only edition of it published since the end of the 19th century of which I am aware was put out the Cambridge University Press in 1970, edited by J Diggle and FRD Goodyear. It is the only book of which I know, amongst those published by Cambridge, which is so recent and which is all in Latin, from the title page to the dedication to the Praefatio to the Index Historicus et Geographicus. So, yay!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

The Pontiac Aztek's Looks, And its Sales

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The pain of knowledge...



Saturday, August 26, 2017

Turning and Turning in the Widening Gibberish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Don Lemon on Trump's Speech in Phoenix

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Monday, August 21, 2017

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!