Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Perspective



Be careful what you look at. You might see it.

I remember a con at the Brooklyn Fair when I was a kid. There was one of those Carnie booths. For a quarter you could try for a prize. But first you had to solve a puzzle. The game was rigged, of course. Aren't they all?

There was a circle on the ledge between you and the carnie magic. The barker took your quarter and gave you five metal disks. The goal was to drop those disks, one at a time, over the circle. You had to completely cover it. He would even do it himself to show you that it was possible. Easy, even.

Well, then. Twenty five cents, a meaningless task that he just showed me how to do, and I can get a Mr. Peabody doll for my girl? No problem. What do you take me for, anyway?

A rube. That's what he took me for. Rightly so.

Of course there was a trick. People tended to put the first disk down to cover as much of the circle as possible. As you continued covering big chunks of the circle and getting closer to disk number five, it became impossible to cover all of the neglected little bits around the corners.

You'd been had. By yourself. The con artist just gathered up the scraps.

I always remembered that. Of all the other cons and wonderlust of the fair, and they were legion, that one stuck in my mind. Give a sucker a chance and he'll pick his own pocket for you.

I think of it as a metaphor. When we look at things around us, we can't take them all in. There's too much data. So we compartmentalize them. We create categories and lump things together. We take our steel disks and drop them over the stuff we see. Disks with names like: Projection. Religion. Ideology. Perspective. Prejudice. Certainty.

I came up with a thought experiment. Don't laugh! It's just...thought.

In my thought experiment there is a table. And on this table there are several objects. A thimble. A pack of cards. A silver dollar. A pair of gloves. An aloe plant. Kleenexes. A TV remote. Car keys.

And I have a divider in my hands. The divider is a square frame with slats that criss cross and divide it up into several smaller squares, like a chess board. Or a sifter, which is what it really is. I take this divider and drop it on the table. The items are now segregated and grouped together in little clusters.

So. If I ask you to look at these groupings and tell me what the items contained therein have in common, you might say...

Well, the thimble and the car keys are together because they both have to do with hands. You put a thimble on your finger and you hold the keys in your hand while you start your car: Hands.

Oh, and the cards and the silver dollar are obvious. People play poker to win. So this us about: Money.

The gloves and the Kleenexes. Well, you put a glove on your hand to keep it safe. You use a Kleenex to clean your nose and make it safe. They're both about: Safety.

Aloe plant and a TV remote. Hmmm. OK. They are both things you have in a living room. Both things you can look at, well, the television that the remote is linked to is what you look at. So they are both items that are entertaining. Or at least pleasing. They are about: Entertainment.

Very good, I say. Now, wait a moment. I take the divider, pick it up off the table, rotate it forty five degrees, and set it down again.

Now. What do you see?

Well, the thimble is now with the aloe plant. So, they both have to do with hands, right? The thimble protects a finger. The aloe can be used as medicine for an injured finger. That's what they have in common: Protection.

The cards are now with the car keys. Well, when most people play cards they don't do so at home. They meet at a friend's house with a few others, play cards, drink beer, eat food that is bad for you. This partition is about: Friendship.

The gloves and the silver dollar. Well. You can hold a silver dollar in your hand. And flip it. And a glove holds your hand. This box is about: Having things.

The kleenex in with the TV remote. Simple. This group is about emotions. You watch a drama on TV and you cry, so you need a Kleenex. Simple: Emotions.

So. Depending on your grouping you get categories called: Hands, Money, Safety, Entertainment, Protection, Friendship, Having Things, Emotions.

Eight categories, depending on how you matched four random items with four other random items.

Our brains work the same way. We group things together according to what they have in common, but only after we decide how we will group them together. It's all in the divider you use to group them together.

What category does the divider belong in?

"I love humans. They're always finding patterns where there are none." The Eighth Doctor.

Post Script.

Here's another one for perspective. Or spin. As it is sometimes called.

Recently Stephen Colbert made a political joke about President Trump. It involved casting President Putin in the role of the oppressive, dominating, "male" figure using a sex act to subdue and humiliate Trump as the weaker, subservient, "female" figure.

Everybody laughed. Those who objected were shouted down. How dare you? Reprimanding Colbert would be to deny first amendment rights. Freedom of the press. Free speech. The right to satire. It would have a 'chilling' effect on the rights of the electorate.

Let's go back in the Waback machine for a bit. Back to 2009. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented a reset button to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. The Obama administration wanted to restart detente with Russia. To build trust and confidence. Noble ideals.

Suppose Colbert had said that Hillary had let her mouth be bun to Lavrov's hotdog? And he'd supply the mustard! Would that be OK? Free speech? Chilling effect on our first Amendment rights if it was challenged?

Hell, no. The liberal left (that would be you and me) would be outraged, and rightly so.

Perspective.

Friday, May 26, 2017

War is Hell




Sherman was right (the Civil War Sherman, not Mr. Peabody’s.) War is hell. It should be avoided by any means possible at every juncture, every diplomatic mission, every d├ętente, and every cultural and economic exchange. But if it is inevitable, then it must be fought resoundingly. There is no in between.

And when that happens, civilians die. This is why war must be the absolute last choice. Many who die and many more who suffer were non-combatants who wanted nothing to do with it, would receive no benefit from it, and had no say in it.

We accept that, except for actual war crimes, civilians will suffer. War crimes are punishable. Collateral damage is tragic and regrettable, but unavoidable. But what is even worse, if possible, is using collateral damage as propaganda. Our war machine kills civilians. Not just Russia’s or Syria’s. Every army ever raised in anger kills innocent people. Sun Tzu considered actual warfare a failure to reach your objectives by other means. If you went to war you fucked up.

Let us mourn them, not use them as cynical propaganda.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Friend


I always assume, of another person, that we have vastly more that we agree upon than that on which we disagree.

That the past teaches us lessons that are appropriate to today.

That learning another language is gaining perspective.

And joining another culture is becoming a person.

A better person.
A kinder person.
A gentler, wiser, nobler person.

When we jump to conclusions we jump right over the truth. And fall into a bed of lies.

And when I look into your eyes, friend, and wish to discuss our differences. I always feel that you and I, friend, both want the same things. At heart, at home, at hearth. There we can come together.

We are more alike than we shall ever know.
We are more the same than petty differences will ever show.

Now. Let's talk. Friend.

Stir Crazy

I went down my hallway, glancing off my kitchen, and into the living room. I had to grab something and bring it to my office. The fridge made a slight, gurgle noise, then stopped. I stopped. That's odd, I thought. Refrigerators don't usually do something just for a few seconds. I went into the living room and got what I was after, my laptop, and went back to the hallway. "Gurgle," the fridge went again.

Now I was concerned. Maybe it's in need of repair? I've had it for a while. You never do anything to refrigerators, except sequester tubs of cream cheese in the back and fossilized lettuce in the crisper drawer. I stopped to see if it would do it again. Waited. Nothing. Then when I shrugged and turned back down the hallway, it kicked in full time.

Oh, my God! My refrigerator is flirting with me!

I've lived in this house for decades, much of it alone. It's been my sanctuary. My fortress of solitude. My, well. The place I hate to clean and generally use as a shield against homelessness. OK. I do stuff like build cabinets, put down hardwood floors, and stuff like that but I never expected it to evolve sentience and get a crush on me! Now, really? Who would ever expect a thing like that? A man's house is his castle, not his mistress.

"Jonathan," she said.

"What? Hey! Who's there?" I said. "And how are you talking to me? My cell phone's on silent!"

"Look under your arm," she said. "It's your laptop that's doing the talking."

Oh, great. Technology came to life and it's horny. This has to be some sort of a dream or something. Did Connecticut pass legal marijuana and am I on an epic stoner high? This is not how it was in the sixties. Houses were full of potheads and refrigerators were full of beer. And dead lettuce. No architecture sex!

Maybe I imagined it. That's what we tell ourselves when some shit happens that we can't process. I went to my office. I balanced my checkbook, or something. "You can balance me, dearie!"

"Yah!" I squelched and fell to the floor. The marquette I had built into the parquet floor took on an erotic form. "Yeesh!" I said, deliriously, and scrambled to the door. My house is going to kill me. But not before- The bedroom! Uh-uh. Not going there. I can see inside. The bedsheets are billowing sensually. They haven't billowed like that in years! Or had any reason to.

Down the hall. The fridge was fanning its doors. The cabinets were open and waving bowls and kicking pots and pans in a raucous can-can dance. The oven was up to steam.

"Just give in, honey." It was the laptop. I flew into the living room. The TV was on. It's playing, A Clockwork Orange? God, I didn't know my house was so sick!

Out onto the front yard. When did my house get two dormers on the front roof? Though they do look inviting. "I can play you some of those web sites you like."

"Who are you? The NSA?" I shouted and ran for my car. Inside. OK. Start up. Head on the steering wheel. Breath. Safe. Get outahere.

"Want me to take you for a ride?"

Oh, no! Not you, too!

Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Court of Public Opinion



There are allegations everywhere. Lot's of people are accused of doing lots of evil things and we are pressed to punish them. In western jurisprudence a person, whether an ordinary citizen, an oligarch, an aristocrat, or a world leader, is considered innocent until proven guilty. So, what are some of the charges?

Trump's people spoke to diplomats. That one's not even a crime. That's why we have diplomats.
Trump's people had financial ties to Russia. And Israel, and Saudi Arabia, and who knows where else. So? Bush was pretty chummy with the bin Ladens. Clinton got donations/bribes from a lot of shady foreign nationals. And some shady national nationals.
Russia interfered with our elections. And AIPAC doesn't? How about Sheldon Adelson? George Soros? Investigate them, hmmm?
Clinton had some debilitating disease. Well, now we're hearing that Trump has all sorts of brain diseases from Alzheimer's to Chronic Baby Syndrome (it's there. Look it up in the DSM!)
The Assad government nukes kittens. Have you looked at Yemen lately?
There are 'moderate' terrorists in Syria. Yes, and I've got a pyramid in Cairo to sell you.
Vladimir Putin eats babies (human caviar.)
Julian Assange is a rapist.

Innocent until proven guilty, or rediculous. Yes. Let's have investigations. Let's have independent prosecutors conduct transparent investigations where all of the facts are open and subject to scrutiny. Have the OPCW investigate chemical weapons releases in Syria instead of blocking legitimate investigation. Allow Assange to defend himself with guarantees that he won't be kidnapped and transferred to an American torture facility. Let the accused face his accuser and have a chance to defend himself before a jury of his peers. And let's not be so choosey on who we condemn and who we ignore. Last year all the outrage was directed at Aleppo. Today in Mosul? Nothing. No, two wrongs don't make a right. But we first must decide if it is a wrong. And why do we choose one to declare wrong and another to ignore altogether? Who decides that?

Instead we have degenerated back to the old Anglo-Saxon champion system. If my champion can defeat your champion, I am innocent. Or off the hook. Same thing. Today we have different champions. There're cruise missiles, the shiny toys of adjudication. Propaganda, or Fake News, is powerful. Guilty in the Court of Public Opinion, also known as a Lynch mob. As vigilante justice. Is that what we stand for? How are we any different from those we condemn?

If you were accused of a crime, which would you prefer? That a judge and jury consider all the evidence and demand proof? That they weigh that evidence and insist on credible witnesses that can be cross examined and validated? Or would you prefer rumors and accusations that are immediately taken as gospel by your jurors who then refuse to consider any new evidence?

Justice is blind. This is supposed to remind us not to look at appearances but to listen to the facts and the arguments and weigh them all in her scale. The scale is tipped to remind us that we can never get it 100% right. Never be sure that justice is being served. Be not so quick to mete out death in judgement!

Next time, we might be the ones tried for crimes against humanity. Which justice would we hope for?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Shoot me if you’ve heard this one




A chicken, a fox, and Donald Trump walk into the oval office. They get into an argument about who is more qualified to be president. “I am, of course,” says the chicken. “How do you figure?” says Trump. “I can keep a secret. I am so good at keeping secrets that no one even knows why I cross the road.” “Nonsense!” says the fox. “I am an expert at guarding hen houses. I’d get my fangs into your secrets in no time.” And Trump says, “Sad. You’re both a couple of losers! I’ve bankrupted four corporations in my lifetime. And to get away with it, I have a phalanx of lawyers. It’s just like the US Government. It’s bankrupt and all that keeps it going is the military. And, yes. I know what a phalanx is. I’ve had it done to me lots of times! #PhalanxMeBaby.”

The chicken and fox had to agree that Trump was right for the job. So the first thing Trump did was appoint the chicken as Secretary of Transportation and the fox as Secretary of Defense.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Goes to Hell Joke No. 1 (They had to start some time.)



Trotsky, Lenin, and Trump go to hell. Satan says, OK. Who's the biggest sinner? I'll give one of you the keys to the Underworld!

Trotsky says, I wanted to convert the world to Communism! And give it all to the collective Soviets!

Lenin says, I wanted to create a Socialist paradise! And give it all to the all to be overseen by the all for the good of the all!

And Trump says, They just gave it all to me. #Losers.

Standard Bar Joke No. 626

Machiavelli, Orwell, and Sun Tsu walk into a bar. Donald Trump is on the telescreen.

Over Victory Gin, Mack (can I call you Mack?) says, "I have no fear of this guy. Not much love, either. Though he is amusing. I should not have underestimated the Prince Buffoon."

Ori says, "And to think I had to come up with memory holes to change the past. What a waste! Now the whole fucking country is a bunch of memory holes."

Sunny huffed. "Confucius!" he said. "In my day this used to be an art!"

So they agreed. Next time they're inviting that 'Soma' guy.

Damn Russians STOP BEING SO CLEVER


I know. I KNOW! The word Russia is a poison pill to any conversation, thought, meme, emogi, thoughtful political discourse (Ha! Just kidding. We don't have that last one anymore.)

So take this one with the requisite cracker of caviar.

Vladimir Putin was recently asked by reporters his opinion on the Trump-Russia collusion, treason, mission, quest, thing. He said, "What's that got to do with me? I'm playing hockey!" The nerve!

Dmitri Peshkov refused to address, "All that nonsense." Ya. Whatcha hiding there, Commie Peshkov?!

Sergei Lavrov said, "Are you joking? Seriously?" In reply to being told that Comey was fired and asked to comment. Smooth, Mr. Lavrov. Acting like our business is none of your business. You're fooling nobody, you know. There's no other fool you could be talking to. I know that because you're talking to Americans!

And in a coup de la crem, Russian foreign affairs department spokeswomen Maria Zakharova said, "You've been reading western newspapers again. They are only good for one thing." (God, I like her.) I have to wonder. What one thing? As additions to our woodhouse or to our outhouse? Either way they help you deal with logs.

Damn Russians.

Monday, May 15, 2017

No Girlz Aloud!


Here's a funny story. I can tell it since we are up in the Boyz Onli treehouse!

Men like boobs. If course. Duh. A friend of mine at the theater, a rather, ahem, generously endowed friend, said the other day that on Facebook someone recently commented on her, what did he call them? Oh, yes. Zeppelins! Or something like that.

Seriously? Zeppelins? Which were they, the "Led" type or the "Oh, the humanity?" type of Zeppelins? It makes a difference, you know. In her case? I'd say there was a lot of humanity there... And there...

Freaky.

So the next time I saw her at the theater she was talking to a few peeps. I sidled up to one of them and said, "Hey! Look at the Zeppelins on that one!"

She was too far away to slap me, which is unusual for my normal inter gender indiscretions. So. Not ever knowing how to stop a female related faux pas once I was on a roll, I went on.

"You know," I said, heedless of demonstrations to the contrary, "I'm a guy," belaboring what I hoped was indisputable. "It's my job to come up with synonyms for boobs. And most women don't even know it!" I said, less than credibly. "For instance. I can be walking down the street with a female friend," for the time being, at least. "And see a woman and say, 'Would you look at the Hunga-dungas on that one!?' with considerably less than a chance that she would."

The average female will say, "Hunga-dungas? What does that mean? Ummm. I donno. Wait! Shoes? No. Eye brows! Uh-uh. Oh, I know! Those deeply revealing, always concealing, sensually delighting, and richly inviting glorious hefts between the waiting cleft of her---shoe laces!? Gah! I just don't get it! I just can't decipher men and their subtle and sophisticated appreciation of the fairer sex!"

Yes. I know. We are just so opaque to them. Poor, poor women. They will never understand us.

But in a million years. I'd never come up with Zeppelins!

Though. It does open up a whole new aviation themed age of exploration...

Now if only we could come up with a way of comparing boobs to mountains in Wyoming.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Shave and a Head Cut



I was shaving the other day. In the shower. Part of my hygiene routine. I shaved my cheeks, chin and upper lip. Gotta get rid of the prickly sticklies. With a minimum of skin abrasions. It's always a battle between how close I want my shave and how much blood I want to lose. My blood lost, as usual.

And then I shaved my forehead. I've always had the Nixon crest. A blob of hair on my forehead with a receding hairline on either side. I called it my wiffle. Whenever I would get a haircut the barber would try to make it more pronounced for some reason. He would try to make it, you know, not ridiculous or something. He’d fail. I'd tell him to trim it. It's just a blob of hair hanging in front of my face. I’m not Carry Grant, after all. He'd cut a minuscule more off. I'd say trim it some more. He'd shave off a bit more. I'd say, fuck it. That's fine. Then I'd go home and cut it down to the scalp.

Lately the wiffle has deteriorated into two skid marks coming down my dome, like tire tracks on a snowy hill. OK. That’s enough of my dignity lost for this lifetime. Now I just shave it along with the rest of the pointless stubble on my head. I use a safety razor. You know, one with a double edged razor blade in it? It’s immensely cheaper than those Gillette ‘Track Infinity’ razors you can buy with their bewildering array of razor sharp gills and their celebrity endorsements. It works fine, for the most part. Though it does not like the continuous slope of my forward dome with its continuously changing tangent. You need an advanced degree in Calculus to figure out just how to hold the blade. This means I usually have to try several times on the upper sphere to get the dy/dx exactly right.

The other day the razor accidentally got a little loose, so the blade was kind of chattering in its holder. While I was integrating my differential, the blade shook a little loose and dragged, stuttering, across my head. It took a few passes before I realized what was happening.

Oops. Yes, I got several micro fine, hardly hurting at all but rather bloody and pronounced, scratches on one side of my head. I look like Mikhail Gorbachev.

Perestroika, anyone?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Duck and Laughter


I was too young to remember the fifties. Duck and cover. Nuclear proof school desks. Red scare. Yellow peril. Green Curry. I vaguely remember the Cuban missile crisis. They say that was the worst the tension between the superpowers has ever been. Until today. I remember the assassination of JFK like it was yesterday. JFK was the one who negotiated with Nikita Khrushchev over the Cuban crisis. He wanted to get us out of Viet Nam. To back away from the brink. So he was a Kremlin stooge. Soft on Communism. Handing away America's eggs and butter. I wonder what a 1960's era Colbert would say about that?

Johnson fixed everything.

I remember Nixon. He did some remarkable things. And one dumb thing. He opened up the doors to Communist China. Negotiated the Salt treaty with the Soviets. Eased tensions. Opened lines of communication. Backed us away from nuclear midnight. So, of course, he was a tool of Communism. Trotsky Dick!

The pointless Seventies. Another SALT treaty. The START treaties. Now we were talking. The ABM treaties. Cooperation. Mutual inspections overseen by the UN. I'll trade you some Jack Daniels for a bottle of Stoli. Sweet. Of course, we were told how collusive Carter was towards those Russians. Anyone who calls for peace was a weakling, a coward, or a traitor. Just like today! Nothing changes.

Reagan will take care of everything. He embodied the spirit of John Wayne with the courage of Andrew Jackson and the hair of Liberace. That'll show those Ruskies. Of course, he then oversaw the voluntary, though difficult, downsizing of the Soviet empire. Where's the jingoism in that? Well. Wasn't he a disappointment! Wuss.

By the time of Brezhnev, the Soviet people knew the Soviet Union was a joke. They say that's the Russians' greatest weapon. Not the one measured in millisieverts. The one measured in belly laughs. Russians have a very dark sense of humor and they like nothing better than to laugh at anything that gets in their way. Just like us. We're not that different. It's what gets them through wars and invasions and famines and stuff. By the eighties nobody in Russia took anything seriously. Not God. Not country. Not community. Though maybe family. You have to reign in cynicism somewhere, I suppose.

Here, here. I got one. A judge walks out of his chambers laughing his head off. A colleague approaches him and asks why he is laughing. "I just heard the funniest joke in the world!" "Well, go ahead, tell me!" says the other judge. "I can't – I just gave someone ten years for it!"

OK. OK. Here's another one! Q: What is the difference between the Constitutions of the USA and USSR? Both of them guarantee freedom of speech. A: Yes, but the Constitution of the USA also guarantees freedom after the speech.

I got a gulag full of them!

Funny. The Soviet people knew their government was full of shit. They didn't believe a word of the fake news, aka propaganda, that was dished out. By 1990 the whole edifice was one creak away from a collapse. How the tables have turned. And we're back to a nuclear crisis! How about that. Don't that just beat all? I always did like nostalgia. Now we're the ones hanging onto our government's every turd like it's gospel dipped in chocolate and the rest of the world is looking at us saying, "Seriously? Have you been paying attention?"

Where's a JFK to sort things out today?

OK. So. Three fake news talkers who laughed at a Senate hearing are in prison. The first one says, "I am here because I spoke out against Trump. What about you?" The second one says, "Well, I am here because I supported Trump." So they turn to the third one and ask why is he here. "Because I am Trump," he says.

OK, Comrade. I'll go quietly.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Victory Day



Today is Victory Day, Russia’s version of Memorial Day. It celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany. I watched a little of the celebration in Red Square. The Soviet Union was allied with Great Britain and the United States against Hitler. Whatever your opinions of the Russian government in 2017, we can express solidarity with Russian citizens suppressed by the Soviet regime in the 1940’s who still rose to the task of defending themselves against fascism. 27 million Soviets, mostly Russians, died in the Great Patriotic War. Every Russian family today has at least one relative, uncle, grandfather, who died in the war. Over a million people starved to death in the siege of Leningrad. The United States hasn’t been invaded by a foreign power since the war of 1812. Russians understand what war is first hand. They don’t like it but they know how to fight one.

Russia was invaded. Joseph Stalin refused to believe his advisors that the Nazis were about to invade and had no preparations. He had to scramble to assemble an army, the Red Army, provision it, arm it, and repel the Nazis. They liberated Poland, liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp, and marched to Berlin. The three allies met in Berlin, which precipitated the division of Berlin and all of Germany into East and West. Stalin, Churchill, and FDR met at Yalta. And then the Cold War happened, an odd piece of history considering that we were all allies during the war. Then we were enemies for no real reason.

The cold war is over. Has been for 27 years. Let us remember what it was like and honor the sacrifices of everyone who was thrust into it. Let us work to insure that no more wars, hot or cold, rear their hideous heads anywhere on earth again.