August 28, 2015

Late-breaking news in the NYT: Psychics are phony.

That's the hot news on the front page. The article is here.

At the Late Summer Café...


... you can go where the wind takes you.

"A young black man arrested by police in Portsmouth, Virginia, on the same day that one of the city’s officers fatally shot an unarmed black 18-year-old, has been found dead in jail after spending almost four months behind bars without bail for stealing groceries worth $5."

"Jamycheal Mitchell, who had mental health problems, was discovered lying on the floor of his cell by guards early last Wednesday, according to authorities..."
Mitchell’s family said they believed he starved to death after refusing meals and medication at the jail, where he was being held on misdemeanour charges of petty larceny and trespassing. A clerk at Portsmouth district court said Mitchell was accused of stealing a bottle of Mountain Dew, a Snickers bar and a Zebra Cake worth a total of $5 from a 7-Eleven.

"We would say stuff like, ‘The reporter’s out in the field.’ And he would look at us and say, ‘What are you saying, cotton fields? That’s racist.’"

"We’d be like, ‘What?’ We all know what that means, but he took it as cotton fields, and therefore we’re all racists. This guy was a nightmare... Management’s worst nightmare."

Of snakes and bisons, selfies and playing dead.

1. "A Lake Elsinore man could lose his hand after being bitten by a rattlesnake he was holding and taking pictures with.... 'I was going to take it off my neck and do something else with it, but it turned sideways, and it sunk its one tooth into … my hand,' [Alex] Gomez said. 'I was terrified and I said "What a fool. Stupid. He could die,"' his mother Debra Gomez said."

2. "Bleeding and flat on the ground, Chris Baker tried to play dead in hopes the huge bison that had just gored him would lose interest and wander off. The animal sniffed, snorted and stood over Baker before finally trotting off. Baker pulled himself to his feet and staggered along a trail near Tower Peak on Catalina Island, looking for help."

"Why don’t you drink your wine? It’s sitting right there, for Christ’s sake. Some of us can’t drink wine, we don’t have that privilege, but you can, so why the heck don’t you do it?"

That's what Stephen King almost walked over and said to 2 old ladies who were sitting near him in a restaurant about 27 years ago, not long after he gave up drinking for good. The ladies were allowing their "half-finished glasses of white wine" to sit "forgotten in the middle of the table" while they carried on an animated conversation.

He's reminded of that when he thinks about the way Donna Tartt — a great writer — has only written 3 books and Jonathan Franzen — also great — has only written 5.
The long gaps between books from such gifted writers make me... crazy.... As a young man, my head was like a crowded movie theater where someone has just yelled “Fire!” and everyone scrambles for the exits at once. I had a thousand ideas but only 10 fingers and one typewriter. There were days — I’m not kidding about this, or exaggerating — when I thought all the clamoring voices in my mind would drive me insane. Back then, in my 20s and early 30s, I thought often of the John Keats poem that begins, “When I have fears that I may cease to be / Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain …”

"It is striking that our brute instincts, rather than our celebrated higher cognitive faculties, are what lead to such moral acts" as taking down that gunman on the French train.

"But why would anyone ever develop such potentially fatal instincts?"
One possible explanation is that in most everyday situations, helping others pays off in the long run. You buy lunch for a friend or pitch in to help a colleague meet a tight deadline, and you find yourself repaid in kind, or even more, down the road. So it’s beneficial to develop a reflex to help — especially because the cost to you is usually quite small....

Owen Labrie acquitted on three counts of felony sexual assault in the St. Paul's "Senior Salute" case.

NBC News reports:
He was accused of raping [a 15-year-old freshman] girl in May 2014 at their boarding academy, the prestigious St. Paul's School in Concord. Prosecutors said he did it as part of a ritual called the "Senior Salute," in which graduating seniors try to have sex with underclassmen.
Though acquitted of the felony sexual assault charges...
He was convicted on three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault, endangering the welfare of a child and a felony count of using a computer to seduce a minor under 16, which requires him to register as a sex offender.
Labrie and the unnamed young woman both wept at the verdict.

Peggy Noonan said: "Cesar, you’re supposed to be offended by Trump, he said Mexico is sending over criminals, he has been unfriendly, you’re an immigrant."

"My friend Cesar works the deli counter at my neighborhood grocery store. He is Dominican, an immigrant, early 50s, and listens most mornings to a local Hispanic radio station, La Mega, on 97.9 FM."
Their morning show is the popular “El Vacilón de la Mañana,” and after the first GOP debate, Cesar told me, they opened the lines to call-ins, asking listeners (mostly Puerto Rican, Dominican, Mexican) for their impressions. More than half called in to say they were for Mr. Trump. Their praise, Cesar told me a few weeks ago, dumbfounded the hosts. I later spoke to one of them, who identified himself as D.J. New Era. He backed Cesar’s story. “We were very surprised,” at the Trump support, he said. Why? “It’s a Latin-based market!”

“He’s the man,” Cesar said of Mr. Trump....
Informed by Noonan that he's supposed to be offended by Trump, Cesar said:
No, you have it wrong. Immigrants, he said, don’t like illegal immigration, and they’re with Mr. Trump on anchor babies. “They are coming in from other countries to give birth to take advantage of the system. We are saying that! When you come to this country, you pledge loyalty to the country that opened the doors to help you.... We don’t bloc vote anymore.... The elite have different notions from the grass-roots working people.”
So she says. Read the whole thing. If you're not a WSJ subscriber, the link won't work, but if you Google some text, you'll be able to get in.

"Unless the rapidly disappearing wetlands are made healthy again, restoring the natural defense, New Orleans will soon lay naked against the sea...."

"So, how does one reengineer the entire Mississippi River delta—one of the largest in the world—on which New Orleans lies?"
Three international engineering and design teams have reached a startling answer: leave the mouth of the Mississippi River to die. Let the badly failing wetlands there completely wither away, becoming open water, so that the upper parts of the delta closer to the city can be saved...,

Scientists worldwide agree that the delta’s wetlands disintegrated because we humans built long levees—high, continuous ridges of earth covered by grass or rocks—along the entire length of the lower Mississippi River... [that] prevented regular floods from harming farms, industries and towns along the river’s course... [but] would have supplied the brackish marshes with massive quantities of silt and freshwater, which are necessary for their survival....

"It’s been 14 years since Peter Bogdanovich made a movie, but that doesn’t mean he’s slowing down."

"The man who burst on the scene with The Last Picture Show is busier than ever and he joins Marc [Maron] in the garage to reflect on a life in show business, starting with his early foray into theater to his friendship with Orson Wells to his latest movie She’s Funny That Way."

Great interview.  Made me want to finally watch my DVD of "The Last Picture Show."

Hey, Marc, it's Welles. (Compare: H.G. Wells.)

There's so much in this interview I'd like to talk about, but there's no transcript, so I just limit myself to one thing, which is that Orson Welles supported the decision to make "The Last Picture Show" in black and white. It's the only way to get the depth of field you see in "Citizen Kane" and — most interestingly — it makes every actor's performance better. All the best film acting is in black and white.

Should Donald Trump pledge to support the GOP nominee?

He's going to have to decide, because it's required to enter the South Carolina GOP primary.
“I don’t make commitments and break them,” Mr. Trump said after speaking at an event here hosted by local chambers of commerce. If he violates the contract, he said, “they should sue. I would go before the court and say, ‘I’m guilty.’ ”

Disputing a Huffington Post report that suggested he was assuring local party leaders that he would sign the pledge, he insisted, “I haven’t told anybody that.”

A hypothetical about the use of fetal tissue.

1. Your 9-year-old daughter has a disease that will kill her within a year unless she receives a treatment that requires the acquisition of an intact 20-week-old aborted fetus. Do you want her to have this treatment?

2. There is a service that connects pregnant women to those who need an intact 20-week-old aborted fetus to cure the disease described above. Women who are considering having an abortion interact with those who need the treatment. Would you use this service to acquire the aborted fetus needed to save your 9-year-old daughter's life? (Assume this activity is completely legal.)

3. The service described in #2 is an app like Uber that connects those who want to interact and securely accomplishes the exchange of money. (Again, assume that this has been fully legalized.) Would you pay $20,000 to acquire the aborted fetus needed to save your 9-year-old daughter's life?

IN THE COMMENTS: Readers don't think I've made it clear in #3 where the money goes. I said it's "like Uber," so you're supposed to infer that the Uber-like company may take a small commission, perhaps 10%, but the great part of the money goes to the woman donating the tissue.

"[G]uns, for many Americans, are a sort of secondary, symbolic car: another powerful symbol of autonomy and independence."

"The attachment to them that so many Americans show—unique among the civilized peoples of the world, and at a cost so grave that the rest of that world often turns away, appalled—is nonetheless understandable to anyone who comes late to driving: to have potentially lethal power within your grasp is an immensely empowering drug. Cars are obviously in a different category, because their benign use is so much greater than their lethal one. But they are tools of the same country, of which I am now a citizen."

Writes Adam Gopnik, who learned to drive late in life. This empathy with gun owners — in The New Yorker — only goes so far. Guns are "almost entirely symbolic." The only "useful social functions" of guns is "in hunting or in killing varmints."
No lives are saved, and no intruders are repelled; the dense and hysterical mythology of gun love has been refuted again and again... 
That sounds hysterical. Not dense. But hysterical.

Gopnik ends with a plea to regulate guns at least as much as cars:
If we only achieved, in the next few years, a regulation of guns equal to that of cars, we would be moving toward the real purpose of autonomy, which is to secure the freedom from fear as much as the freedom to act. Symbols matter. Lives matter more.
And analogies are very, very tricky.

August 27, 2015

"Hey, Conservatives, You Won/The College Board’s about-face on U.S. history is a significant political event."

A Wall Street Journal article by Daniel Henninger.
Last year, the College Board, the nonprofit corporation that controls all the high-school Advanced Placement courses and exams, published new guidelines for the AP U.S. history test. They read like a left-wing dream. Obsession with identity, gender, class, crimes against the American Indian and the sins of capitalism suffused the proposed guidelines for teachers of AP American history....

"The fact that he kept his job was because he was an African-American gay man. That’s pretty hard to say no to."

Said former news producer Greg Sextro, quoted in The Daily Beast's "Vester Flanagan Threatened Colleagues, Played the Race Card for Years/The cold-blooded Roanoke killer kept getting fired, kept threatening co-workers, and kept claiming he was the real victim."

Sextro called Flanagan "the biggest dork I’d ever met in my entire life... a really nice guy. A horrible reporter, but really nice... just a goofy guy." And: "I cannot see him doing this ever. He had to have been pushed to the limit to do something like that."

Also in that article, this quote from Flanagan to the judge in his 2013 discrimination lawsuit: "I am hereby requesting a trial which will be heard by a jury of my peers.... I would like my jury to be comprised of African-American women." Not African-American gay men. African-American women.

What is Joe Biden saying about his "emotional fuel"?

It's very sad that Joe Biden lost his son Beau, but I'm very skeptical about everything Beau-related that's being thrown out in front of us to smooth the way for a presidential campaign.

Here's Maggie Haberman in The NYT:
In a conference call on Wednesday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. told Democratic National Committee members that he was uncertain if his family had the “emotional fuel” for another presidential campaign....

Were he to run, he would “have to be able to commit to all of you that I would be able to give it my whole heart and my whole soul,” he said, “and right now, both are pretty well banged up.”

“I’m not trying to skirt your question,” he said. “That’s the truth of the matter, but believe me, I’ve given this a lot of thought and dealing internally with the family on how we do this.”
Note that it's the family that may be low on "emotional fuel," not him. His "heart" and "soul" are "banged up," but if he runs, it will be because he's determined that he has what it takes, that there's plenty of emotional fuel, there's fuel because of Beau, because he's worked through this tragedy and come out tougher, more determined than ever and because Beau wanted him to run... he's doing this for Beau! We're supposed to get caught up in this win-one-for-the-Gipper sentimentality.

This is political propaganda. However real Joe Biden's pain may be — and I'm sure it is — I'm standing at a cold distance from this emotional politics. I'm more interested in how Hillary feels about it. You know, she has feelings.

By the way, there's a new Quinnipiac poll, out this morning, that has Biden beating all the GOP candidates by twice or three times as much as Hillary beats them. Biden has 8 points on Trump, Hillary only 4. Biden has 6 points on Bush, Hillary only 2. Biden has 3 points on Rubio, Hillary only 1.

"So what’s behind TV’s Reaganaissance?"

Asks Jeremy Egner in The NYT, noting Ronald Reagan characters on “Narcos,” "Deutschland 83,” “The Americans,” “Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp,” and “Fargo.”
Children of the 1980s are making television now....

But Bruce Campbell, the cult star of the “Evil Dead” films, who will play Reagan in “Fargo,” suspects that in a time terrorized by nebulous militant groups and other hazily defined enemies, there’s a certain nostalgia for “a commander in chief who says, ‘I’m gonna bomb your ass,’ ” he said.

“Nobody talks like that now,” he said. “Obama’s like: ‘Hey let’s hold a summit. Let’s take a consensus.’ ”
Did Reagan talk like that? I don't remember him using language like "ass," nor do I remember him threatening violence like that (other than the joke — "We begin bombing in five minutes" — that we weren't supposed to hear). I remember "Tear down this wall!" I remember Reagan's mocked belief that we could defend ourselves from bombs. But I don't remember him as an "I’m gonna bomb your ass" kind of guy.

And as for Campbell's "Nobody talks like that now." How can you not say: Trump! But what does "like that" even mean? I don't think Reagan actually talked like that, but he talked in a way that made us (some of us) feel that he was talking like that. I don't think Trump is now saying anything like "I’m gonna bomb your ass." He's actually quite circumspect in speaking about anything relating to the military, but he gives people a feeling that could be expressed as saying things like "I’m gonna bomb your ass."

August 26, 2015

Everybody's talking about this weird, wild press conference with Donald Trump.


"I assume the Caitlyn Jenner explosion was a glut of PR companies pushing insanely because I don’t know anyone who felt that interested."

"I believe in humasexuality... we are all human and we are all attracted to humans. To chip it down to tags and tote-bags simply creates division. I could only be concerned by a person’s sexuality if it directly affected me, which it never does. I do not feel asexual, but technically it appears as if I am because I don’t feel any raging affiliation with anything."

Said Morrissey.