Archive | February 2017

Dodging Pedestrians

According to the Baltimore Sun, Bikemore and the city are concerned about the interface between cars and bicycles. I have noticed delivery trucks and the occasional car stopped in the new Maryland Avenue cycle track:

… motorists continue to park in the lanes, making it dangerous for bicyclists, who are forced to dart out into traffic, advocates say.

“It’s a safety issue,” said Liz Cornish, president of BikeMore, a local bicycling advocacy group. “It’s just not enough to put a ticket on the windshield. It can lead to crashes.”

Citing increased complaints, City Councilman Eric T. Costello is proposing a bill that would increase the fine for parking in a bike lane from $75 to $250. It also authorizes the city’s transportation department to tow the parked vehicle immediately, as they are empowered to do with cars parked in the middle of the road.

But that isn’t my biggest issue. I’ve been wondering how to alert the authorities that someone is probably going to get killed on the new cycle track. Not a cyclist, but a pedestrian.

Some pedestrians stroll along the new bike lane as if it was La Rambla, instead of using the old sidewalks. That’s annoying, but at least I can see them from a distance. What scares me are the people that scoot across any part of the bike lanes without even glancing left and right for bike traffic. I can anticipate and avoid the people using crosswalks, but some other folk act like either A – they’ve never seen a bike using the lanes, or B – they assume we can read their minds.

Hear me, pedestrians. I have good brakes, but aging reflexes. You don’t want to be hit by a 250 lb man on a bike going 12 to 18 miles per hour anymore than I want to hit you.

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5ive

The first post-nuclear apocalyptic film I ever saw was Five, or 5ive, which was on television one evening back when showing a movie on TV was a big deal. Mom let me stay up. I remembered the general plot (but not the characters’ names). There was one man (Michael), more or less the hero, in a beach house. A pregnant woman (Roseanne) found him. He was attracted to her, but she was hoping that somehow her husband also survived. An affable old white man (Oliver) and a young black man (Charles) showed up, saying they had survived the radiation inside a bank vault. Then they found a man washed up on shore (Eric). He had been climbing a mountain when it happened. It was implied that these were the last five people on earth. Or six if you count the unborn child.

Four of them were trying to survive, grow crops, etc, but Eric was nothing but trouble. Oliver succumbed to radiation sickness. I remember him saying, “It looks like I’m bleeding under the skin,” while Roseanne swallowed back a sob. Michael and Charles buried Oliver. The baby was born – I think it was a boy. Eric hated Charles for being black almost as much as he hated to work. He got drunk and drove a jeep over their crops. He stabbed and killed Charles. He argued that since they hadn’t died, they all must be immune to radiation, and convinced Roseanne to leave with him to look for her husband. Eric wanted her, but mostly wanted to loot the stores. When Roseanne found her husband, he was just a skeleton in a suit. Eric saw that he had radiation sickness and ran away screaming. She returned to Michael, but on the way bathed her baby in a stream. Later it started to cry. She was flustered and tried comforting him, but eventually he died. So the film ended with just Roseanne and Michael.

Promotional posters made 5ive seem like a sexy potboiler with a love triangle – I had forgotten the scene where Michael tries to seduce Roseanne – but reviewers said the characters were flat and spent a lot of time reciting deep philosophical thoughts. TCM claims 5ive was the original post atomic bomb movie. It was subtitled ‘A Story About the Day After Tomorrow’ (the 1983 post-apocalyptic tv movie with Jason Robards was called The Day After). It was shot in 1951 at Eaglefeather, a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed cliff house that belonged to the writer-director, Arch Oboler. Film code officials objected to the realistic depiction of Roseanne’s labor, so some of that scene was cut, and 5ive was distributed as an art-circuit film.

Writer and Director Arch Oboler started in radio, and had already destroyed the world once – in the ‘Chicken Heart’ episode of Lights Out that was lampooned by Bill Cosby. He often worked anti-Fascist propaganda into his stories. Three of the actors were former USC film students. William Phipps (Michael) started in cheap scifi flicks but had a long acting career. Susan Douglas Rubes (Roseanne) worked on Broadway, in soap operas, and on network television and founded Young People’s Theatre. Earl Lee (Oliver) had a very brief career and died the day I was born. James Anderson (Eric) played a lot of cowboys, and even a farmer in To Kill a Mockingbird. Charles Lampkin (Charles) convinced Oboler to include lines from the poem “Creation” by Harlem Renaissance poet James Weldon Johnson in the opening. If you can trust wikipedia, Lampkin has the distinction of being the first African-American actor in a substantial role on a Hollywood movie that was not playing a singer, dancer, athlete or buffoon. (The Emperor Jones was made outside the Hollywood system). Lampkin was a debater, musician, lecturer, actor and once directed Paul Robeson in a concert.

Fake Accompli

I didn’t watch President Trump’s now-infamous Thursday press conference live. WBAL’s morning news said something about a meltdown, but I mostly pay attention to the weather, so I know what to wear on the bike. I did go to work curious enough about how Trump had handled the Flynn resignation to want to see the entire conference for myself.

When I walked upstairs for our Friday morning bagel and doughnut feed, I asked my office tennis buddy if he had seen the story on Eugenie Bouchard’s twitter date. He was too busy giggling and shaking his head over a video of the press conference on his iPad. He told me Trump was really crazy. A few minutes later another work buddy came over to my desk and asked me if I had seen the press conference. I told him I had a youtube link to watch over lunch. He said I had to watch it. It was great, he said, Trump really gave it to the press!

These are both bright guys, and I like them both. It wasn’t too surprising that they would disagree, but I was intrigued that they had vastly different takes on the same event. So I watched it over tea and a chocolate cake doughnut, and tried to keep an open mind.

I was waiting for him to pull out a pair of steel balls, but mostly saw Trump being Trump. He was lying here and blustering there, as always, but he wasn’t melting down. I don’t like the job he’s doing, but didn’t really blame him for calling out the press for attacking him. He’s threatening the established order – the Deep State – so of course the press is attacking him. And of course he’s going to play the victim.

At The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf posted One Press Conference, Two Audiences, in which he claimed:

Viewers who watched it themselves saw a rambling, misleading performance. But those who relied on conservative cable newscasts or talk radio hosts got a very different impression.

But my friend saw it himself, and loved it. So I’m thinking Friedersdorf is engaged in wishful thinking.

Perhaps the divergent coverage of Thursday’s press conference helps to illustrate that a great many of those people aren’t seeing the same information as those who oppose Trump — they are being fed lies and untruths by coastal-dwelling millionaires like Hannity and Limbaugh; and they exist at a time when even more responsible right-leaning outlets that make up their information bubble are unlikely to target the lies they encounter, and in a culture where a columnist like Goodwin sees what’s going on and celebrates it as Trump playing the game well.

I think we’re getting a predictable amounf of slant from both sides. Scott Adams thinks different expectations lead to Imaginary News.

We live in our own personal movies. This is a perfect example. Millions of Americans looked at the same press conference and half of us came away thinking we saw an entirely different movie than the other half. Many of us saw Trump talking the way he normally does, and saying the things he normally says. Other people saw a raving lunatic, melting down.

Adams is pretty much on board with Trump, but I don’t think he’s wrong about the people or the news. As others have pointed out, the mainstream media used the term fake news to vilify news they couldn’t control, and now it can’t control that many people see it as little more than better-packaged fakery.

Out Like Flynn

“Come at the king, you best not miss.” – Omar

President Trump came into office, promising:

From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.

Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.

It isn’t too hard to interpret his inaugural speech and his first flurry of appointments, executive orders and memoranda as an attack on the current regime, deep state, shadow government or whatever you want to call that combination of oligarchs, lobbyists, bureaucrats, media and spooks that run the government behind the scenes, and enjoys the lion’s share of the spoils.

Trump may think he is the king, but his close staff has to know that they are coming at the deep state, and can’t afford to look weak. Likewise, the deep state has to know that they aren’t going to get that many shots at Trump. They have one now, but is it good enough?

Trump lost in the courts, which may have been expected, but has had to ask Michael Flynn, his national security adviser, to resign, which he probably did not expect. Bill Moyers wants the government to investigate all Trump’s connections with Russia, as he writes in, We Must Know the Truth:

Why was nothing done until the media broke the story? And why did Trump lie? As the National Lampoon joked back during the Watergate era, rephrasing the crucial questions aimed at Richard Nixon: “What did the president know and when did he STOP knowing it?”

Is it possible Trump and Flynn had been talking all along and keeping it to themselves? Who authorized Flynn to speak with the Russian ambassador on Trump’s behalf in the first place? The president himself or chief strategist Steve Bannon? Or someone else? Was Flynn a lone gun? Who can tell with all the lies?

And another thing: if the White House has known what was going on for weeks, why was Flynn still attending intelligence briefings as late as Monday? …

Cenk Uygur thinks taking down Flynn is just a warning shot, and that it all boils down to that 500 billion dollar oil deal with Russia that was put on hold after Obama’s sanctions. Another theory is that Trump was forced to borrow from shady lenders with ties to Russia. In any case, the media is hitting the Russian connection hard, and we can expect to see Beck Bennett’s bare-chested Putin on SNL next weekend.

I ran across John Robb’s blog, Global Guerrilla, a few days ago. Robb is an Air Force Academy graduate, who has specialized in social networking and the future of warfare. “I spent last year working for the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff on his vision for how AGI (artificial general intelligence) and robotics would transform how the Joint Force fights in 2035.”

In a post called, Political Networking (how social networking is changing politics forever), Robb notes that Trump’s team leveraged what he calls an open source insurgency to win the election, but is having trouble adapting it to govern. The resistance (or what he calls the Orthodoxy) however, is well-positioned to attack Trump with it’s own open source insurgency, which:

  • arose out of the ashes of the political parties and is growing without any formal leadership.
  • is ALREADY firmly in control of nearly all public forums.
  • enforces opposition to Trump
  • uses social networking to exert pressure on people to accept the orthodox position (in this case: #resistance to Trump).
  • grows through peer pressure and disconnecting deviants from the network.  It doesn’t innovate.  It rejects, cajoles, and pillories.
  • is growing at an accelerated pace because Trump feeds the outrage that fuels it.

I can already see the peer pressure on Facebook and some blogs, but I also see it hardening support from Trump’s followers and increasing divisions between working and technocratic classes. Robb hopes for some sort of participatory network arising to overcome both sides, but believes we are actually prepping for a civil war.

Stumbling Through the Portal

When I was a kid, my mom, brother, sister and I watched a scifi B movie called The Time Travelers late one weekend night. Two university scientists, an assistant and a technician climb through an experimental time portal into a grim future, where the remnants of mankind are beset by starving, bald mutants who all wear the same ragged jumpsuits. The surviving humans have a fortified underground city where they are building androids and a space ship to escape an Earth devastated by atomic weapons. That wasn’t exactly an unusual premise for 1964. We loved it, especially the weird looped ending.

Comet TV showed that film a few weeks ago, followed by Beyond the Time Barrier, which was shot in ten days in 1959. In this grainy b&w flick, an Air Force pilot testing a sub-orbital jet somehow lands in a future where most humans are deaf-mutes hiding in a fortified underground citadel. They, too, are beset by angry, bald mutants, but in this case there had been a cosmic ray plague – resulting from nuclear weapons testing. My sister would have cried at the sad ending.

There’s a great scene near the beginning of The Time Travelers. The technician has stumbled through the portal, then unnaccountably runs out of sight behind some rocks. The two male scientists call out, and then go looking for him. The female assistant scares off two hostile mutants with a fire extinguisher (not too believable). Then she goes through to warn the scientists that the portal is unstable. As the three of them head back, the portal suddenly implodes, and the camera lingers on each of their stunned faces as they process what just happened. And it occurred to me that I and a lot of other people probably looked just like that while we were watching the election returns last November. Because we can’t go back, either. We have crossed into the future.

We’re also beset by angry hordes, some of them the working class in this country, and some the displaced immigrants from countries that we have reduced to failed states, and some displaced immigrants from areas dessicated by the changing climate. Some of us live in cities where everyone seems to be happy, and prosperous, and where they are building robots to take us to a new future. We’re not deaf-mute, but we might as well be because we don’t listen very well. Like the humans in both flicks, we just can’t understand why the hordes are so angry at us, and we can’t imagine reasoning with them. We haven’t gone underground, but we talk about closing borders, building walls, banning protests and running over demonstrators.

I sometimes think we’re the mutants.

Rebuilding the Left

In a piece on 3QuarksDaily, Thomas R. Wells asserts, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS NEOLIBERALISM AND IT IS DESTROYING THE LEFT:

Wells begins with, “The first problem is that there is no such thing as neoliberalism. It exists entirely as a critique by the left. … Nobody ever describes themselves as “neoliberal”. The phrase is only ever an accusation.”

That’s a relief because no one ever self-identifies as a racist or misogynist, either, so it is good to know that there is no such thing as racism or misogyny.

Going further, Wells claims that the term is a flexible straw man that means whatever the critic wants to attack. The American Heritage definition, though, is fairly concise:

ne·o·lib·er·al·ism (nē′ō-lĭb′ər-ə-lĭz′əm, -lĭb′rə-)
n.
A political theory of the late 1900s holding that personal liberty is maximized by limiting government interference in the operation of free markets.

And Encyclopaedia Brittanica’s description is fairly precise:

By the 1970s, however, economic stagnation and increasing public debt prompted some economists to advocate a return to classical liberalism, which in its revived form came to be known as neoliberalism. The intellectual foundations of that revival were primarily the work of the Austrian-born British economist Friedrich von Hayek, who argued that interventionist measures aimed at the redistribution of wealth lead inevitably to totalitarianism, and of the American economist Milton Friedman, who rejected government fiscal policy as a means of influencing the business cycle (see also monetarism). Their views were enthusiastically embraced by the major conservative political parties in Britain and the United States, which achieved power with the lengthy administrations of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1979–90) and U.S. Pres. Ronald Reagan (1981–89).

Neoliberal ideology and policies became increasingly influential, as illustrated by the British Labour Party’s official abandonment of its commitment to the “common ownership of the means of production” in 1995 and by the cautiously pragmatic policies of the Labour Party and the U.S. Democratic Party from the 1990s. As national economies became more interdependent in the new era of economic globalization, neoliberals also promoted free-trade policies and the free movement of international capital. …

I suspect that what Wells is actually concerned about is the replacement of neoliberal globalism, the status quo, which has benefited his class, with something else. He raises the spectre of Trumpism, but I don’t think left-wing critics are advocating that we succumb to the alt-right, anti-immigrant, anti-global fervor that is sweeping the First World. What critics are pointing out is that neoliberal, free-market policies have been applied to mostly benefit an upper class of what Thomas Frank calls technocrats, and what others call a meritocracy, while the people that do, “most of the working and paying and living and dying,” have been pushed into the arms of the alt-right. The people in the upper class are literally being paid to not believe that anything is wrong with the current incarnation of liberalism.

I don’t agree with pundits that are trying to foment anger against the upper class, but I don’t think the meritocracy is at all sustainable, either. Especially if we engage in denial. But deciding on the way forward will not be easy.

In that vein, I ran across this podcast by Debbie Lusignan, who posts on Youtube and Facebook as The Sane Progressive. She is a social media version of that passionate neighbor that buttonholes you about politics while you are trying to trim your hedges.

Lusignan cited Lee Camp’s interview of Nick Brana on RT’s Redacted Tonight. Brana served as national political outreach coordinator for the Bernie Sanders campaign, and was a founding member of Our Revolution  – very much an offshoot of that campaign. Brana and seven others left Our Revolution after the election of Jeff Weaver as its President. Brana was hoping to draft Bernie Sanders to lead his new People’s Party, which would be independent of, and a replacement for, the Democratic Party. Citing a Gallup poll, he claims that over 14 million people have left the Democratic Party to become Independents. Looking at that poll historically, however, it seems that the percentages of identification with Republicans, Independents or Democrats have fluctuated up and down for years without any significant trend. At the moment, Democrats are one percentage point lower than they had been going back to 2004, but in the leaning chart, they are behind only 44 % to 43 %.

Lusignan noted that Sanders had already refused to lead the Green Party, and predicted that he would also refuse this offer, which he did the next day. She also felt that Sanders is being used as a sort of post-election sheepdog – outreach manager – to attract young voters back to the Democratic fold. He wasn’t given any real power or positions in the party – those went to Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi and Donna Brazile – but they have him out there making speeches, debating with Cruz over the ACA, and endorsing establishment Dems like Schumer.

There will be a lot of this Judean People’s Front sort of thing going on in the liberal/progressive wing, and eventually one movement will shake itself out. The more we participate, the more likely that we will see the type of movement we want.

I am not your enabler

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) is doing away with its message boards:

IMDb is the world’s most popular and authoritative source for movie, TV and celebrity content. As part of our ongoing effort to continually evaluate and enhance the customer experience on IMDb, we have decided to disable IMDb’s message boards on February 20, 2017. This includes the Private Message system. After in-depth discussion and examination, we have concluded that IMDb’s message boards are no longer providing a positive, useful experience for the vast majority of our more than 250 million monthly users worldwide. The decision to retire a long-standing feature was made only after careful consideration and was based on data and traffic.

The example James Pilant cited on his business ethics blog was that many IMDb members have effectively driven down the ratings of the new documentary film about James Baldwin. I Am Not Your Negro has been nominated for a Best Documentary Feature, has a 96/100 Metacritics rating, and a 97% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, but only 5.8 out of 10 on IMDb. When I look at the votes at this moment, some 585 have given it a perfect ten, 482 have voted it an awful one, and 300 or so members have voted at some number in between. Pilant’s source had the ones leading the tens about 400 to 300, but readers seem to have responded.

I will be sorry to see the boards go. I like to check on some old TV show like Sky King, or some actress who played a small part in The Time Travelers, and I usually learn some interesting tidbit. But it seems to be the rule that an interesting and informative core group will always be forced out by trolls and abusers. I like to peruse the videos on LiveLeak, but the comments section is a misogynistic, racist and jingoistic nightmare. I watch TYT Network, but the comments are infested by trolls who seem to either love or hate only Cenk or only Ana. And Gamergate, the anti-Social Justice Warrior movement came to light when women objected to being harassed on gaming sites.

I hear you thinking of suggesting moderation, but in my experience trolls are too smart to be held back by anything but a dedicated human moderator with nothing else to do. I like to read some comments sections, and I comment myself, but I’ve stopped feeling like I’m part of a community anywhere.