My weekend morning ritual has been to watch reruns of Men Into Space (1959) at 7:30 AM on Comet TV. Although I was completely unaware of the show until a few years ago, I’m sure I would have loved it as a boy. Essentially the show presented space exploration as a serious military project with very little tolerance for any speculative elements and roughly zero dissenting social commentary. The technical aspects seemed real enough for the time, though the space suits are obviously not pressurized. The show revolved around Air Force Colonel Edward McCauley, who was Ward Cleaver in a uniform – an authoritarian, by-the-book officer that always turned out to be right about everything. When not traveling into space, the Colonel and his subordinate officers enjoyed cookouts with their wives and girlfriends, who were extraordinarily attractive despite wearing pointy bras and way too much makeup. On two occasions women astronauts made it into space, but the writers couldn’t let us forget just how different they were from men.
I watched The Angry Red Planet again last weekend, a well-meaning scifi flick also from 1959. My siblings and I watched this flick in the 1960s, and thought it exciting then. As an adult it is harder to ignore the flaws, but even though it relies on stock sets and characters that wouldn’t last a day under Col. McCauley, the special effects weren’t bad for the time, and the plot was straightforward. Basically, four Terrans travel to and land on Mars, where they are beset by bizarre local flora and fauna and are finally told to stay away by advanced inhabitants. Even with a doctoral degree, Iris Ryan didn’t fare much better than the women on Men Into Space. Colonel Tom could hardly stop hitting on “Irish” throughout the mission. Warrant Officer Sam is a fairly goofy sort who is in love with his ray gun, and Professor Gettell is one of those 60s scientists that apparently doesn’t specialize because he knows everything.
I also watched a recent apocalyptic scifi short called Rakka, starring Sigourney Weaver, which is available on youtube, and runs about twenty minutes. Rakka is set in 2020, and opens with narration by Weaver:
We were once mankind. We were humanity. And now, we’re no more than pests, vermin. They came here to exterminate us. They took our history and culture. They covered our landmarks in dying humanity. … They killed us in waves when they first arrived. They built these megastructures that spew methane. They’ve sewn their crops, snuffing out our plant life. Raising the global temperature, causing our cities to flood. They waged war on Earth. They set fire to our forests. It’s already hard to breathe, impossible to breathe if you are close to the stacks. … They hack into our psyche, into our minds, paralyzing us, taking control of our cerebrum and limbic systems, rendering us as slaves.
It occurred to me that much of this could have been a speech given by any of various indigenous peoples about more advanced conquerors. It could also be a speech about what the well-to-do are doing to the Earth right now.
Tranzit.ro has just posted two hour video of two short lectures and a panel discussion called Europe: Economic Crisis and Political Alternatives. I gather the lecture series took place at or near Petru Maior University in Romania.
As you watch the video, from left to right sitting at two flimsy tables are the moderator: Alex Cistelecan (Petru Maior University, CriticAtac)
Michael Roberts, a Marxist economist living in London, author of The Great Recession (2009) and The Long Depression (2016).
Mark Blyth, economics professor at Brown University and fellow at The Watson Institute, author of Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the 20th Century (2002) and Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (2015).
On your far right is another moderator: Cornel Ban of Boston University, author of How Global Neoliberalism Goes Local (2016).
The sound quality is uneven, and photographer spends a fair amount of time scanning the crowd instead of the screen, which is hard to see. But some Romanian girls are quite attractive.
Where is Europe going and what can be done about its economic malaise? The final instalment of our series of lectures ‘Culture and Politics of Crisis’ focuses on the current European political and economic deadlock. As such, it sets the stage for a dialogue between two of the most important political economists of our time: Mark Blyth and Michael Roberts. For Roberts, the European crisis is diagnosed from a Marxist perspective. For Blyth, the analysis is infused by heterodox Keynesian views. Consequently, the two scholars diverge both in terms of situating the main cause of crisis and the main solution to it: for Roberts the emphasis falls on the general fall of the rate of profit affecting capital in our time, with anti-capitalism as the solution. For Blyth the crisis is caused by a lack of demand and investment and the way out is a different kind of capitalism. Between these diverging diagnostics and challenging solutions affecting the global and continental predicament, the fate of the East of Europe will also come in the spotlight: what are the limits of the semi-peripheral condition of this region and what remedies does it permit – Lexit, national sovereignty, regionalism à la Visegrad? Is a reformed, more social and egalitarian EU possible? Or, if not, how – or even why? – should we stop its nationalist disintegration?
I read that Fox will be no longer using their, “Fair and Balanced” tagline. I wonder who will snap that one up? Maybe the DNC? Maybe the Republican’s charity softball team? I think Fox is replacing it with, “Laughing Our Ossoff.” Or maybe the Democrats already have that trademarked, having spent a fortune to run another Republican-lite candidate while campaign consultants laughed all the way to the bank.
The Dems reminds me more and more of the Washington Generals, who were paid to play straight up basketball (and lose) against a team that ignored the rules in favor of showmanship.
The Redskins get to keep their name, and no NFL team has signed Colin Kaepernick, who offended the league by pointing out that police were shooting dark-skinned people almost as casually as they shoot barking dogs.
Shaun King believes that Black Lives Matter is losing the struggle. I think we are all losing the struggle, but no one is shooting at me yet.
The movie Star Wars opened in theatres about forty years ago. It was later called A New Hope, but then it was just another summer movie. I have run across several articles proclaiming how great it was, and asking people to comment on how it changed their lives. It always reminds me of a girl.
That summer, I got a letter from my college roommate who had seen it already, and he said despite all the hype, it was actually pretty good scifi. Technology showed signs of wear and tear, and even had dust and dirt streaks. He recommended it.
I was working in Southern Virginia, moving from town to town managing a crew of other summer interns. We were all architecture or engineering majors who had gotten work with the Corps of Engineers. There were two groups, one was guys from Maryland (me) through Massachusetts. Another was guys from Virginia through Texas. I put in a few weeks with the Southern group, then took over the Northern group.
At the end of the summer, we all came together for a few weeks. Before that, the guy from Notre Dame, Larry, wanted to visit his friend in Augusta, Georgia over a long weekend. He couldn’t rack up that sort of mileage on his government car, but I was using my own car. Coincidentally, my college girlfriend was visiting my previous college roommate who was interning in that same city. She had only given me his phone number but not his address, and I thought I might be able to call them up when I got there.
So I agreed to drive us down there. Along the way I was surprised to discover he didn’t believe in evolution. It wasn’t a bad drive. His friend’s name was Leonard, and they knew each other from track team, both doing long distance running. He was an in-your-face extravert. “Two Words!” he shouted at Larry when we got there, “Two words and you’ve got it made here: All Hail!”
“All Hail?” I thought, but he was really saying, “Aw Hell!” in an exaggerated local accent. I told him I was there to try to find my girlfriend, and he asked, “Is this bad news?” Anyway I never connected with her, but we men had a good time, played some tennis, and drank some beer. Now, Leonard had a girlfriend, a buxom local gal, I forget her name, but she had a roommate, Anne, who was a visiting student from Belgium, who was the thin, pretty sort that I always notice. She spoke English but was generally quiet.
So the five of us went to see Star Wars. Somehow I ended up sitting next to Anne at the theatre, and was very conscious of being near a pretty girl who wasn’t my girlfriend. Star Wars, as you probably know, is a very American movie. Parts of the film echo both Western gunfight serials, and old WWII dogfight flicks. I laughed at the more obvious references, but Anne would just look at me with a puzzled expression. I don’t think she understood why a guy would laugh during a battle scene.
Afterwards we all went to a big old bar with loud music. Larry and Leonard were reliving old times. I tried to talk to Anne, but it was tough sledding with the noise and language barrier. By that time I had completely forgotten about the movie.
Now I can’t remember how we got to the next situation, but somehow, Larry and Anne were in my car and we were following Leonard’s car. He had accused his girlfriend of steppin’ out with someone else, so they were having a fight, and she was going to take off in her car, and he was going to follow her. Poor Anne suddenly realized she was in a car with two American guys she hardly knew and panicked. I was trying to think of some way to assure her that she was perfectly safe – even though I didn’t really know the route back to their apartment – but I realized it probably looked pretty bad to her. She got out and yelled the other girl’s name. I don’t actually remember what happened next, or how we made it back to Leonard’s place, but that was the last I saw of Anne.
Today she probably tells her grandchildren scary stories about American architects. I look back and wish I had had a chance to just talk to her. Yeah, the movie was good, but the only life-changing drama was in the real people I was meeting.
Something happened during the last election. Depending on what news outlets you follow, you probably believe either that candidate Donald Trump colluded with the Russian government, sabotaging the campaign of Hillary Clinton, or that the DNC ordered the assassination of Seth Rich. You may not believe either accusation, and frankly there is no solid proof that either is true. You probably don’t believe both to be true, which is unlikely but still possible, because your media outlets have been presenting these as either-or conspiracy theories.
Seth Rich worked for the Democratic National Committee as a Voter Expansion Data Director. Some people claim he secretly favored Bernie Sanders instead of Hillary Clinton.
On 10 July 2016, at about 4 AM, Rich was walking home from a bar in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of Washington, DC NW. (I lived in and around DC until 1990, and never heard of that neighborhood, but in general NorthWest DC had become a place where affluent young people wanted to live.) Police were alerted to gunfire at 4:20 AM, and found Rich bruised and shot twice in the back. His girlfriend told reporters:
“There had been a struggle. His hands were bruised, his knees are bruised, his face is bruised, and yet he had two shots to his back, and yet they never took anything… They didn’t finish robbing him, they just took his life.”
Rich still had his wallet, watch, phone and was wearing a $2,000 necklace. There had been twenty robberies in the area, and police later labeled the killing a “botched robbery,” but it may actually have been a botched amateur assassination, since nothing was taken and he was still conscious when found. He died at hospital.
Two or three days later, WikiLeaks published nearly 20,000 Democratic National Committee emails. John Podesta and the DNC claimed those emails were obtained by Russian hackers, which given the numbers of hackers from Russia, is plausible. The DNC expanded that claim to involve the Trump campaign, and there is currently a House Intelligence Committee investigation into whether there was any collusion between Trump or his campaign, and the Russian government.
Julian Assange refused to confirm or deny that Rich had leaked the emails, but on August 11th, Wikileaks offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to Rich’s killer.
Former DC policeman Rod Wheeler, working indirectly for Rich’s family claims that he was told by a reliable FBI agent that Rich’s laptop proved that he had sent the emails to Gavin McFayden, a mentor of Assange and an official of Wikileaks, who has since died of lung cancer. Wheeler has recently walked back that claim.
Today, legions of podcasters are waiting for Kim Dotcom to fulfill his promise to prove that Seth Rich leaked those emails to Wikileaks. Dotcom claims he was involved, too.
But no matter what Dotcom does or doesn’t reveal, the full force of the Deep State will still be behind the Russian hacking theory, which seems to be the best means of attacking a President that recklessly announced his hostility to the establishment during his inaugural address.
Is not this simpler? Is this not your natural state? It’s the unspoken truth of humanity, that you crave subjugation. The bright lure of freedom diminishes your life’s joy in a mad scramble for power, for identity. You were made to be ruled. In the end, you will always kneel.
The big news in the United States has been the firing of FBI Director James Comey by President Donald Trump. At first Trump attributed his dismissal to Comey’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton, but no one (except maybe FiveThirtyEight.com) was buying that explanation. After a day or two of differing stories from various members of the White House staff, it became clear that Trump had consulted very few of them before the announcement. Even Steve Bannon found out via a news broadcast.
Soon it was asserted that Director Comey had recently requested more funding and resources for the FBI’s investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia. And just before the weekend, NBC’s Lester Holt interviewed Trump, who said that he had actually fired Comey because:
“And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself — I said, you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story. It’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should’ve won.”
To the propaganda arm of the Deep State, meaning most of the mainstream media, Comey’s firing and Trump’s admission meant that there was definitely something to the allegations that have persisted since the election. In this youtube video, a power panel of the supposedly independent The Young Turks (Ben Mankiewicz, Cenk Uygur, Alonzo Bodden, John Iadarola) was predicting Trump’s imminent perpwalk: Trump Administration ADMITS Comey Was Fired To Kill Russia Investigation
But we’ve heard news of Trump’s imminent demise over and over. In, Has The Trump/Russia Conspiracy Been Proven True? Michael Tracy (also of The Young Turks) makes the case that Trump’s interference does not prove collusion, but may well constitute obstruction of justice. (It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up.)
While Cenk Uygur dismisses Trump as a bumbling man-child, and joked that Michael Tracy was wearing blinders on this issue, I think Tracy, and reporters at The Intercept are correct to wait for solid evidence. It seems clear to me that the resistance has been looking for an easy way to rid themselves of this populist president, and is more than willing to make up the facts as they go along.
Does that mean I support Trump. No. But I was watching some youtubes from a podcast called Trending locally and from a presentation called, Globalization and the Backlash of Populism. In the podcast, Mark Blyth discussed the French Election and Comey ; in the Q&A after the Backlash presentation, he discussed the situation before the election.
Blyth pointed out that Populism is by definition, “popular” and probably isn’t going away. Marine Le Pen, he observed, did get one-third of votes cast, and she or someone in her family will run again next time. The resistance, he noted, has to offer more than just rickety coalitions against populist candidates. They have to offer workable alternative solutions.
I’m not sure that Progressives and Liberals even qualify as a rickety coalition nowadays. There are at least three broad camps, but not much solid ground in any of them. The first is the establishment, neoliberal Democrats, who are hoping that Trump’s failures will propel their party to being relevant again without changing a thing. Seriously, not a thing. A few days ago the Washington Post published an opinion letter claiming that Hillary Clinton would obviously be the strongest candidate in 2020. As they did during the campaign, they are trying to leverage the popularity of Bernie Sanders without really adopting any of his campaign platform. Sanders is touring the country carefully shepherded by new DNC chairman Tom Perez. Sanders has gotten so much applause and Perez so little that Perez has taken to introducing Sanders at the beginning of his vague speeches.
There are two challenger groups, Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats, that appear to be working together to primary and replace establishment Dems with more progressive alternatives that eschew PAC money and large donors. Cenk Uygur and much of the Young Turks team are promoting Justice Democrats. California Congressman Ro Khanna has officially joined them, and Paula Swearengin, an environmental activist and a real coal miner’s daughter, has joined JD to take on Joe Manchin in the WV primary.
But there groups for whom some progressives Democrats just aren’t progressive enough. One is of course, the Green Party. Another is the People’s Party, which hopes to lure Senator Sanders into being their candidate. And in an online battle of podcasts, a number of uber-progressive journos have attacked both Bernie Sanders and Ro Khanna. Some consider Sanders too much of a hawk; others are put off by his failure to address the vote-rigging reported by Greg Palast. Khanna is unsuitable because his campaign manager once wrote a memo to John Podesta offering a deal for Hillary Clinton’s endorsement, and more recently has received a lot of $2,700 dollar donations from Silicon Valley types instead of smaller donations from regular people.
It is difficult to know where the search for purity leads, though, because in my recollection, every revolutionary that survives either becomes establishment themselves, or a murderous despot.
It is a bizarre time for tennis.
A few weeks ago, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) announced a new strategy to reduce the total number of professional tour players. I’m not sure if any sport is as Byzantine as tennis, but essentially there are the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) which runs the elite men’s tour, the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) which runs the elite women’s tour and the ITF, which runs a lot of things, like the Davis Cup, Federation Cup, Hopman Cup, Olympic tennis and circuits of smaller professional, junior, senior, wheelchair and even beach tennis tournaments. The ITF “partners” with the ATP and WTA, and “sanctions” each of the four majors – which are otherwise run independently – and manages the ranking system.
The ITF now plans to reduce the number of professional players from around 14,000 to 1,500 – 750 men and 750 women. Their research indicates that half of the current players don’t actually earn any prize money on the tour, and that many more don’t actually earn a living, relying on parental or sponsor support. They also claim that all these journeymen players make it difficult for talented juniors to advance to the elite tours.
I watched one set of the ATP Masters 1000 tournament in Monte Carlo last weekend. I usually prefer WTA matches, but TennisTV can’t broadcast those anymore. The semifinal match between Rafael Nadal and David Goffin seemed promising. Goffin was having the best week of his career, bumping off Novak Djokovic in the quarterfinals. But Nadal is a god on clay, and had already won Monte Carlo nine times. They had never played each other before.
Goffin broke early. He was playing well and was holding serve fairly easily until he served at 3-2. Nadal finally seemed to put some return pressure on Goffin, and in a long game, earned but lost a break point. Then it appeared that Nadal had hit wide on a Goffin game point. Nadal began walking to the service line, but the chair umpire climbed down, circled a mark in the clay and signaled that the point should be replayed. Looking at a replay, the announcers were certain the ball was out by, “a mile.” Goffin held his head in disbelief, but to no avail. The game went back and forth for fifteen minutes with each player holding and losing game points until Goffin hit a ball into the net. 3-All.
Nadal held easily for 4-3, then Goffin rather meekly lost serve again, and with Nadal leading 5-3 I decided to watch something else. I read that Nadal won 6-3, 6-1. Nadal could certainly have come back to win without that bad call, but the match had changed from compelling to a cakewalk.
In Federation Cup action, Great Britain was visiting Romania, whose captain is the talented but tasteless Ilie Nastase:
At a news conference on Saturday to preview the matches in Constanta, Romania’s captain was heard to say of [Serena] Williams’ baby, due in the fall: “Let’s see what color it has. Chocolate with milk?”
On the first day, a win by Simona Halep had Romania 1-0 against Great Britain. In the second match, Brit Johanna Konta, who has been hot lately, was leading Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 1-2. But when captain Anne Keothavong complained about Nastase’s audible comments, he began verbally abusing the chair umpire, Keothavong and Konta from the sideline. Nastase was escorted out, but Konta was rattled and lost the next game. She asked for a time out, then ran out the next five games to tie the rubber at 1-1.
ESPN reported that Nastase had been creepy before the matches:
The 70-year-old, who had a reputation as a playboy during and after his playing career, had previously made Keothavong feel uncomfortable with a number of inappropriate remarks earlier in the week.
Having asked for her room number during the event’s official dinner on Thursday, Nastase then repeated the request when the captains posed together for photographs following Friday’s draw, and he put his arm tightly around Keothavong’s shoulder. When both teams were called back together, Nastase said to Keothavong, who is married and 18 weeks pregnant with her second child: “We keep being attracted.”
Romania went on to win both subsequent singles matches, but Nastase is now suspended by the ITF. Cirstea called Konta weak for needing the time out, and Halep claimed that Nastase is always joking, but a Romanian official took the cake by noting that Nastase wasn’t a racist because he is friends with Yannick Noah.
I’ve read a few outraged articles about United Airlines vs Dr Dao. As he often does, James Pilant questions the business ethics involved. I consider air travel an environmental tragedy, and agree that people wearing police uniforms are entirely too ready to dish out force and violence, but I have been generally aware (one of my brothers has been bumped) that overbooking was a common practice driven by A – people missing or not showing up for flights, or taking earlier flights and B – the airlines wanting to maximize profit by having a passenger in every seat.
I read somewhere that without overbooking the average flight might be only about 83% full, but I have seen many more empty seats on Greyhound. I’ve taken the bus from Altoona to Harrisburg to Baltimore dozens of times, and unless it is a holiday weekend, I see anywhere from 50 to 90% of seats going empty. Airlines, though, were hit hard by the price-gouging competition that came with the 1978 Airline Deregulation Act, and more recently by unpredictable fuel costs. So they overbook. As I am in the middle of reading James Kwak’s Economism: Bad Economics and the Rise of Inequality, I was trying to figure out why, in a deregulated and free market, overbooking isn’t perfectly balanced by some other market factor like voucher payments.
On April 11th, Cadie Thompson at Business Insider explained, The frustrating reason airlines overbook flights, but quoted Vinay Bhaskara, “Usually, they won’t overbook first class because that could tend to make your most lucrative passengers very angry.”
Four days later Thompson amplified the justifications, Here’s why overbooking flights is actually a good thing:
“By overbooking it actually does help keep the fares down because the airlines are able to maximize the amount of revenue they are able to collect and generate as much profit as they can,” said Henry Harteveldt, president and travel industry analyst for Atmosphere Research Group, told Business Insider.
“But if they didn’t overbook it’s possible they may have to charge more,” he said.
Overbooking is also beneficial to consumers because it allows the more flexibility in their travel plans, Vinay Bhaskara, Airways senior business analyst, told to Business Insider.
“Frequently, the people who benefit the most from overbooking are the last few people to buy, The ones who are not able to make plans in advance,” Bhaskara said. “Often times those seats are available at the last minute are only available because that flight can be overbooked. The airline knows some people are going to be missing the flight.”
Ultimately, though, overbooking is done because airlines want to ensure that they are making the most money on every seat. So they use historical data to help them predict how many people will likely miss a flight on a certain route. And most of the time it works.
Bureau of Transportation Statistics indicate that in 2015 about one-tenth of a percent of passengers were denied boarding (bumped), and that roughly 90% of those were voluntary, meaning that they took the vouchers offered. Journalist Bob Sullivan notes that while the voluntary numbers are declining, the involuntary bumps remain fairly constant. He blames the vouchers:
Again, that means one thing: the voucher offers aren’t nearly good enough.
Let’s speculate about why that is. I’ve heard from many readers today about the vouchers they get from airlines in this situation, and here’s the truth: Experienced fliers are wise to the game. They are saying no more often. Vouchers aren’t all they are cracked up to be, and they certainly aren’t the same as cash. They expire. Sometimes their remaining value is surrendered (a $400 voucher gets a $300 flight and $100 disappears). Most of all, the vouchers must be used on the airline that just did the bumping. Who wants to fly an airline that just kicked them off a plane!
And, like rebates, some of them are never used, giving the airlines a secret source of revenue.
Kwak’s central theme is that the free market only operates perfectly inside your Economics 101 class:
“… Because nobody is ever forced to make a trade (in theory, at least), a transaction only occurs if it makes both parties better off. … prices naturally adjust until supply equals demand. …”
Kwak notes that in the real world, there is, “a fundamental tension between efficiency and fairness,” which sometimes leads to price gouging, and now has led to a bloodied man being dragged off a passenger jetliner, and being vilified in the press for not going quietly.
Update 20170420, a popular article at The American Conservative quotes Fox, The Daily Mail and the Independent to paint Dao as a sharpie who instigated the whole mess, hoping for a lawsuit.