Monthly Archives: July 2017

A couple of thoughts on political discourse

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Any data that do not fit the solution or theory we have already clung to are ignored or discarded. Merim Bilalić and Peter McLeod, “Why Good Thoughts Block Better Ones” in Scientific American. 

“Can’t we all just get along?” Rodney King

Persuasion may play a part in a man’s conversion; but only the part of bringing to its full and conscious climax a process which has been maturing in regions where no persuasion can penetrate. A faith is not acquired; it grows like a tree. Its crown points to the sky, its roots grow downward into the past and are nourished by the dark sap of the ancestral hummus. Arthur Koestler, The God That Failed

A couple of days ago – maybe a week depending on how long it takes to write this – an old friend that I haven’t seen anywhere but on facebook asked me, “What is it that concerns you about a lack of dialogue between “liberals” and people who disagree with them? That if they talked to each other more it would change things? I think that until willfully ignorant people start educating themselves about reality, we have to just do the best we can to limit the damage they’re doing.”, and I didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t know the answer and I’m not sure I still do; still, those are the best questions so I’ll give it a try.

Every one of the following sentences should start with I think, or, In my opinion, so consider that included. The answer to the first question is implied in the second question, as corny as it sounds. Yes, if we did talk to each other, it would change things. But the third sentence highlights the problem; if it is only the other person who is willfully ignorant and needs to start educating themselves before we even have a conversation, then the conversation is probably not going anywhere. If we define the problem as “We are right and they are wrong and the only answer is for the other guy to change”, we have done two things that are sort of contradictory: we say your opinion is worthless, so worthless that you are not worth even listening to, and we give them all the power by saying that we can do nothing to bring change, they are the only ones that can bring change.

Our beloved country has been drifting in the wrong direction for several decades and Trump is a giant leap in that wrong direction. Still, I understand why some people voted for him; what I do not understand is why most of those people would still vote for him and the only way I am going to find out is to listen to them. I have learned a couple of things by listening. One is that different Trump voters have different reasons they voted the way they did, the Trump voter block is not monolithic. Some voted for Trump because they expect they will pay less taxes and they will probably be right. I don’t think that is a good reason, not even a moral one, but it is rational. Some voted for Trump because they think the country is such a mess of vested interests that throwing a grenade in the works is the only way to stop it from getting worse. They might be right, the country might get better under Trump but that is unlikely and there is a real possibility that Trump might make the situation much worse. I’m sure that some people voted for Trump because they are bigots – although I have never talked to anybody who has said they voted for Trump because they don’t like black people or Jews – and lots of people voted for Trump because he isn’t Hillary.

I have no data to prove that listening to the other, honoring that the other has a point of view worth considering, actually works to calm the turbulent waters of conflict, but I do have lots of anecdotal evidence that yelling or mocking the other doesn’t work.

Dunkirk….Wow! what a movie

dunkirk-teaser900Dunkirk is an epic movie and an intimate series of character studies. It is a three-part fugue on war and is uncommonly powerful, it is also so very, “keep calm and carry on”, English. Christopher Nolan wrote and directed the movie and it bends time and space in a way only he seems to be able to do. The three parts of the fugue are on the beach, on the sea, and in the air; each of the three parts have different tempos in that they take place over different time spans but they all play the same melody. The first part takes place over a span of one week which is about how long the troops were stranded, the second over one day which is about the time it takes a small boat to go from England to Dunkirk and back, and the third takes place over one hour which is about how long a Spitfire can fly in aerial combat. Then the three parts are intermixed so our sense of time is yanked around.

Dunkirk is a front brain movie that rewards paying attention. It is also a big screen movie that has a zen like simplicity, especially on the beach and in the air. It was shot on film rather than digital and it has a beautiful softness and flatness that are immersive on a big screen. As somewhat of an aside, maybe not, I’ve read more than ten accounts, at least, of Germany’s march into Poland in 1939 and every account talks about the Stukas spreading terror. I intellectually knew that they were a weapon to spread terror and fear but, in the back of my mind, I thought it was exaggerated. The Stukas were old dive-bombers after all, they were designed in 1935 and based on an even older American plane, they didn’t even have retractable landing gear and they had a top speed of less than 200mph. But, the German’s mounted sirens on the bottom and, in the movie – as in real life, in Poland for example – as a Stuka dove in on a bombing run, it could be heard before it was even seen. As it got closer, it got louder. I sort of exonerated the terror because  they were flying against Polish peasants who didn’t know any better, but here, in this movie, hearing the siren getting closer and realizing, feeling, the helplessness of being on the ground, I understand, I felt, that terror. It is that kind of movie. End somewhat of aside.

As the movie gets closer to the end, the pace picks up and all three parts of the fugue come together in a grand finale. It is a tour de force by a master. This is a war movie, and a powerful war movie with shocking and very intense scenes in a first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan way so, if that scares you, stay away. But, if you want to see a masterpiece by a master at the height of his powers, see this on the biggest screen you can.

Go see “The Big Sick”

The Big Sick A-As an aside, I am definitely doing something wrong, this is the third time I’ve typed this. Then I think I save it and all that comes back is the picture. Michele and I went to a small get-together to honor Catherine Santos, it was at her home and I had never been there without her and that really brought home the realization that she is gone. Today I learned one of my co-cardiac-rehabbers, Placida Chavez, died last Wednesday at 93. We often walked on treadmills next to each other and sometimes we chatted; a week ago, we chatted about her finally getting all the weeds in her garden pulled. Now all that is left of Placida is our talking about her and an obit on the table where we write down our vitals. Somehow, my pitch on The Big Sick disappearing seems to fit right in. End aside.

Michele and I saw The Big Sick last Friday and I’ve been thinking of it ever since. It stars Kumail Nanjiani, playing himself, and Zoe Kazan, playing the movie’s script writer, Emily V. Gordon who in real life is married to Nanjiani and the movie is about their early relationship. Zoe Kazan is radiant – the only other time I’ve seen her in a movie, Ruby Sparks, she was also radiant and she should get more work – and that radiance is bright enough to carry her presence through the Big Sick phase of the movie in which she is in a coma. The movie is billed as a RomCom and it is very romantic and very funny but it is also about how our relationships don’t exist in a vacuum and a big chunk of the film is about Nanjiani’s relation with his and Emily’s parents. Every player in this movie, from the loving- couple to the nurse in the hospital seems real.

Trust me on this, go see The Big Sick.

We went to a World Superbike Race and it was sensationfull

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When I first read about the motorcycle races at Laguna Seca and pitched it to Michele, my eyes read FIM Superbike World Championship but my mind read MotoGP World Championship. I really had no idea what the difference was, I now know: Superbikes are like racing Corvettes or Ferrari street cars, MotoGP is like Formula 1, cars built only for racing. In terms of speed, they are much closer than, say, a Ferrari street car and a Ferrari F1 car.

We got to Laguna Seca around noon, in time to wander through the Paddock and get lunch before the race at 2 o’clock. Between twelve and two is also the hottest time of the day and there is not much shade in the Paddock as we looked at various open garages, sweat rolling down our faces, we tried to guess at what we were looking at. There we stood, looking at stunning motorcycles with no real idea of what they were. At first, when it said Factory Team,  I assumed we were looking at genuine Superbikes, but when we wandered over to an area where the Superbikes actually were, they are completely hidden from view. MotoRaces-01767I told Michele, “I have no idea what’s going on and, yet, I am strangely comfortable.” Michele pointed out that I have been coming here for years and it is the place itself that feels comfortable. Thinking about it and doing a little Googling later, I realize that the first race I saw here was November 1957 and I still remember it. Sammy Weiss beat Jack McAfee, both in silver Porsche 550 Spyders; it was one of the best races I have ever seen. But in those days, I knew who the drivers were and I could recognize a Porsche 550 at a thousand paces, here I didn’t even know what engine size each class of motorcycles had, let alone their brand without reading the label, and I didn’t know one driver’s name (at one point, Michele said “I can tell who the best drivers are.”, me “Oh, how?”, “They are the ones with the longest autograph lines.”).

As a disclaimer, I love hot motorcycles, the kind that used to be called, derogatorily by Harley people, at least, Riceburners (even though a lot of the best are Italian). The kind of almost racing bikes that we see on the street, driven by a young kid almost laying down on top of the bike, weaving in and out of traffic. The kind of bikes, like a MV Agusta Brutale 800, that are exquisite pieces of sculpture. If I had the money and space, I would have one in my living room in plex box as a piece of sculpture. MotoRaces MV-02325

In the Paddock, there were almost a hundred exquisite pieces of sculpture, each lovingly handmade, each way more delectable than a Brutale 800 street bike. Some of them were obviously well cared for by wealthy teams and some were just with a guy and his dreams. MotoRaces RC-01743 MotoRaces Suk-01708MotoRaces lg-01789

Over lunch, we talked about watching the race. Since we had no idea what was happening anyway, I suggested that we go for maximum sensation by getting close to the track rather than going for the overview. At two o’clock the first race started…

Explain to me why North Korea is an existential problem

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Across 25 years and five administrations, we have kicked the North Korean can down the road. We are now out of road. National Review

The threat, dubbed “the worst problem on earth,” has persisted across U.S. administrations and only grown more alarming over time. Outgoing President Barack Obama warned Trump during the transition that North Korea was the most urgent and vexing problem to confront. NPR

Across the political spectrum, all the news reports on North Korea act as if North Korea is an existential threat to the World and, especially, the United States. I don’t understand it. Nobody seems to have an explanation of why North Korea is such a big threat (I’m guessing somebody must have but if so, I missed it). We are told that Kim Jong-un is crazy and while he does seem to have a crazy haircut, he doesn’t seem to do crazy stuff. Except for the Kim Jong-uh is crazy stuff, nobody explains why North Korea is such a big problem, they just assume that you know, or everybody knows, that it is obvious.

What I do know, or think I know, at least is that North Korea is a country of about 25 million people ruled by Kim Jong-un, the grandson of Kim Il-sung, the dictator appointed by and backed by the, then, Soviet Union. North Korea is next to China in the north – and China is North Korea’s biggest trading partner and, theoretically, its biggest external influence – and South Korea in the south (duh!). Its people are starving poor and it still has a larger standing army than we do with (although it is considered to be ill-equipped by modern standards). What it does have is a limited nuclear capacity and an increasingly sophisticated ICBM program which North Korea is trying to parlay into an operational nuclear missile fleet – that’s probably the wrong word – capable of hitting anywhere in the United States. The treat of this program has scared the shit out of us going all the way back to the first Bush. The mainstream media have fanned these fears for over twenty-five years alternating between mocking Kim Jong-un – and he does seem easy to mock – and screaming “The sky is falling!” with no explanation of why this is such an existential problem.

What I think, or know I think, at least is that all this hysteria is made up, there is no real danger, North Korea is like a spoiled kid trying to get the world’s attention. Let’s just imagine, for a minute, that North Korea is fabulously successful in their schemes and they have a hundred nuclear-tipped ICBM ready to go. What are they going to do with them? Nothing, the same as Pakistan or Russia (Russia has about 7,300 nuclear warheads, with about 1800 ready to fire, by the way). If they use them on us or South Korea or Japan, the retaliation would annihilate North Korea along with the Kim Jong-un regime. The only thing a nuclear weapon does is prevent an attack. I read that North Korea is irrational to want nuclear weapon, I think it is irrational to not want them, just ask Moammar Kadafi. We have demonized North Korea since Jun 25, 1950, and we do have a record of attacking countries that we demonize. I think what North Korea wants is attention and the Kim Jong-un regime wants recognition as legitimate.

Demonizing North Korea sells newspapers and magazines, it gets people to watch the nightly news, and it gives the American regime in power a useful distraction. It does not contribute to a better world.