Week's End Thoughts & Reflections, September 1, 2018



The week kicked off with Monday morning bread baking. I have not done much of that recently. I am by no means a gifted baker. It is always a bit hit and miss. Monday's whole-wheat loaf came out just right to enjoy two hefty slices of warm bread with butter and a little honey for lunch.

Resist Trump Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The plantar fasciitis is better, I think, hope, but still with me. Enough of that.

Yesterday brought the announcement that the Village Voice is ceasing all publication (print publication ended last September). I once read the Voice regularly. It has been some time since I read it at all. I suppose it just disappeared from my radar, lost amid the swirl of online media. The demise of the Voice is a sobering loss at a perilous time for serious journalism. Even so, sixty-three years is a good, long run for a periodical that was the nation's first alternative newsweekly. We can acknowledge the loss while celebrating the Village Voice's accomplishments, which include three Pulitizer Prizes, and honoring it as a reminder of the indispensable role that journalism plays in the civic life of the nation.

John McCain's legacy is a complex affair. From my point of view he was often wrong on policy. To be fair, I imagine he would have been just as convinced that I was dead wrong on those policies if he had any idea of my existence. There were times when more was made of the maverick moniker and the reputation for straight talk than was justified. An impulse to celebrate his sense of duty to the nation might be best served if accompanied by sober recognition of a distinction between this sense of duty, McCain's patriotism, and the patriotism that is, in the words of Samuel Johnson, the last refuge of a scoundrel. That recognition, that qualification, was not exactly the norm.

None of that matters today. McCain received many heartfelt tributes this week. They were his due. That so many came from colleagues whose ideological differences with McCain ran deep is itself a remarkable tribute. More than ever we need the example John McCain and Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and others provided this week of women and men of decency and good will who disagreed deeply over issues while maintaining mutual respect.

As has been much noted, the president did not receive an invitation to attend memorial services for John McCain. Prior to the Trump era it would have been inconceivable that a president would not attend memorial services for a war hero and public servant of McCain's stature. Now it is only what we expect.

Wednesday I caught the new Spike Lee joint BLACKkKLANSMAN. You may have heard about this one. It's gotten some pub for obvious reasons. Set in 1978, BLACKkKLANSMAN is based on the true story an improbable undercover operation where the first black officer on the Colorado Springs police department infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan. Fine performances by John David Washington as Officer Ron Stallworth and Adam Driver as Flip Zimmerman, the undercover officer who becomes Stallworth's double for face-to-face meetings with Klan members. Driver, whose credits include roles in Frances Ha, Inside Llewyn Davis, Paterson, and several Star Wars films, has become one of my favorite actors.

Spike Lee is not known for subtlety. This is fine for a tale where subtlety would be out of place. He is a gifted director who delivers his message with tremendous impact and a measure of, shall we say, dark humor derived in large part from the pure absurdity of the situation. Klan members are knuckleheads spewing hatred and venom, so over the top you might think the portrayal is overblown if not for all the evidence to the contrary on display from kindred spirits all too much with us today. Stallworth conned them so effectively that he established a friendly phone relationship with David Duke and was nominated to become the local group leader. The real Stallworth says his sergeant would sometimes be laughing so hard he had to leave the room while he was on the phone in his Klan persona. He himself still laughs when he thinks about conning Duke, who think he doesn't have the intelligence of an ape because he is genetically inferior.

The contemporary relevance of the story is evident throughout and driven home at the conclusion with footage from last summer's white supremacist rally at the University of Virginia. The spectacle of Trump youth marching with tiki torches held high while chanting "Jews will not replace us" is powerful and sobering.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo makes a case against impeachment on pragmatic grounds. It will not be enough for the House to vote to impeach if the Democrats are in the majority after November. The Senate has to vote to convict. It is pretty clear that will not happen even if the Democrats come out of November with a razor-thin majority in the Senate because somewhere around seventeen Republican senators would have to vote for conviction to reach the two-thirds required by the constitution. It is hard to see that happening no matter what is turned up by the Mueller investigation. The process would consume a huge amount of time and dominate news coverage.

This will take time away and oxygen away from what can meaningfully protect the country and has the best chance of moving the ball against the President politically: that is, aggressive oversight of the executive branch and investigations using the power of Congress. (Forget About Impeachment)

Cathy O'Neil, who blogs at mathbabe, has a nice column at Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg Is Totally Out of His Depth: And so are all the big boys of tech.

I might be the only person on Earth feeling sorry for the big boys of technology. Jack Dorsey from Twitter, Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, all those Google nerds: They’re monumentally screwed, because they have no idea how to tame the monsters they have created. ... The world expects great things of them, because they’re supposed to be geniuses. Problem is, they’re not...

It's worth reading in its entirety.

And physicist Sophie Hossenfelder has a nice piece on her blog Backreaction: Dear Dr B: What does the universe expand into? I don't pretend to be able to wrap my head around the explanation, but I am heartened by Hossenfelder's response to a comment from a reader who has difficulty understanding "when people talk about collisions between universes leaving imprints on the CMB," Well, heck, me, too. Hossenfelder replied, "Yes, indeed, I have the same problem. But you can calculate it, and that works for me. Really I often find visualization attempts more confusing than enlightening." Me, too.

I close with one last recommendation, this one another excellent column by Kareen Abdul-Jabbar, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: what sports have taught me about race in America (The Guardian, August 28, 2018), which concludes:

As Mark Twain once said, "[T]rue patriotism, the only rational patriotism, is loyalty to the Nation all the time, loyalty to the Government when it deserves it." Athletes who speak out are proclaiming their loyalty to a constitution that demands equality and inclusiveness, not to the government officials who try to undermine those ideals by silencing its critics.

Keep the faith.

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