Category Archives: Culture

Stop Mocking ‘Duck and Cover’

If your grew up in the shadow of the cold war at some point you were exposed the civil defense that instructed the viewers that during an atomic attack that they should, the moment they see the flash, duck and cover into safety.

This advice has become roundly mocked as useless and is often referred to when someone thinks that an authority is proposing a solution that offers no benefit. This is another example of cynicism masquerading as wisdom.

It is true that if you are close to a nuclear explosion ducking and taking cover will do you little good, but if you are truly close you will have at the chance to take such action. The advice is aimed at person who is distant enough that they can see the flash but where the blast is delayed. In that event, taking cover is flipping brilliant.

A few years ago a meteor impacted the Earth over Siberia exploding with the force of hundreds of thousands of tons of TNT. Only the shallow angle of its approach kept the destruction from becoming catastrophic. However scores of people were injured in the blast, and most because they did the exact opposite of ‘duck and cover.’

They saw the flash of the meteor, they rushed to the windows and stared, and then the blast wave arrived, shattering the glass and injuring them.

Sadly with the situation in North Korea and the United States atomic anxiety is on the rise and yes if you are near ground-zero of a detonation the flash and the blast will be nearly simultaneous but if they are not you would do well to remember Duck and Cover.

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Here We Are Again

Another American School another spree killing. As I write this reports are that17 are dead, teachers and students. Tragic doesn’t begin to describe yesterday’s events. Earthquakes are tragic, plagues are tragic, this is malice and evil intent, this is cowardice, and this is intolerable.

For something intolerable we tolerate quite a bit of it, but as I have argues in other postings, I do believe that a reckoning will come, that the camel’s back will break, that the damn will burst and like the transition from liquid to gas a state change will occur. Will it be after yesterday’s murders, perhaps, but I do not think so and yet I feel certain that critical mass will be reached.

The same voices are shouting after this horror. The same calls and counters are shouted with a religious conviction. It doesn’t matter which side, at this juncture the response are programmed and consumption seems more for the tribe and asserting solidarity than any hope of changing reality.

I will not delve into the gun control debate. Not because the time is not ‘right,’ that is a deflection with the purpose of postponing the discussion indefinitely. I have made my views know before and for the large part they have not changed.

There is blood and pain and death ahead of us before this will ever change. Our troubles are far deeper than any legislative fix, but that is not to say that no legislation is required.

I do not profess to have the answers. The questions are deep and complex, but answers will be found I hope that are found soon.

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There Are Always Trade-Offs

When it comes to politics who you do or do not support in politics there are nearly always trade-offs. One should never let the perfect be the enemy of the good but equally one should always be aware and owe up to the causes that may have your sympathies but cannot have your support.

For example one may have sympathies for both marriage equality and for right-to-life, but finding a political entity that enthusiastically supports both is near impossible. When it comes time to cast your vote, or donate your hard earned money, one will have to support one cause and leave the other. This is the nature of the beast and one can rail but ultimately one must accept it.

What I dislike is when someone claims the mantle of supporting two positions but yet their actions always fall in support for only one. Express your sympathies but also be honest about where your support is placed.

I have sympathies for firearm rights but for more than a decade now my support has been for politicians and parties that are hostile to those rights. It’s quite simple, there are other issue that matter more to me, that carry greater moral weight, and that ultimately compel my attention.

I hope someday that this madness that has produced the current administration will soon burn itself out, but one cannot close your eyes to the reality and in the end reality is what you must deal with.

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A Foolish Waste of Time

Among Conservative, particularly the ‘Tea Party’ set it’s nearly axiomatic that Government cannot solve any problem. Go far enough down that line of thought and you will discover those who advocate private enterprise ‘solutions’ to law enforcement and the courts.

As foolish as that line of thought becomes it is also foolish to think that every problem can or should be solved by government action. Right now there is an idiotic fad of people eating detergent ‘pods.’ They do not do this alone and in secret, but rather video record their idiocy and then spill it out for all to see on the Internet.

Okay, these people are fools and we need to spread the word that eating detergent is a stupid and dangerous. However, there is a push by some that the government needs to step in and regulate the appearance of these soap delivery systems so that they are less appetizing to idiots.

No.

This is not a problem solved by government. You cannot have the mechanism of laws, and law enforcement chasing down every dumb thing people do. It is not the enlightened man’s burden to save ever fool from his folly.

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A Power Historical Drama: Conspiracy

Monday night, when I came home from my local writers group meeting, I developed a migraine and was unable to write or read. After taking my medication I pulled up HBO Now on my apple TV and browsed for something to watch while I waited for the pill to work.

I selected the 2001 HBO/BBC production Conspiracy. It is a movie I have seen twice before and being something familiar that would work well with my migraine and I could watch just enough until the headache subsided and I could retreat to bed.

I watched the entire film.

Conspiracy is about the 1942 Wannsee conference where Nazi General Heydrich calls, at Hitler verbal directive, a meeting of the top ministries and military divisions of the Nazi government to settle the ‘Jewish Question.’ It is the meeting where the murder of millions was decided. The meeting was held under conditions of extreme secrecy, each participant was given one copy of the meeting notes and instructed to destroy them after reviewing the record. (Luckily for history Foreign Minister liaison Martin Luther failed to destroy his and the record was captured after the war’s end. It is his copy that the film script is based upon.)

With an impressive cast including but not restricted to Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci, and Colin Firth, the film is nearly a play. Set primarily in a single room, it is a large group of men talking, arguing, and giving vent to their hate. And yet with so little ‘action’ it is utterly captivating. The banality of their evil is a chilling reminder just how easily people slip between prejudice and murderous hate. How anti-Semitism comes in a sickening array of flavors, from the knuckle dragging brutes of the SS to brilliant legal minds warped by conspiratorial thinking and imaginary world spanning cabals.

The crux of the piece is of course how this meeting set the holocaust in motion, not by accident, not by lack of foresight, but by premeditated intent to murder millions.

It did not start here. It did not start with the hate, though plenty bathed in that hate and weaponized in their poisonous politics. No for Germany and its population it started with the scapegoating, the blaming, the lies and finger pointing to a marginalized population as the source of all of Germany’s troubles. It started with words.

Pay attention to the words hurled by others and those repeated by yourself, what starts as a political tactic can all too easily end on horror on unimaginable scales.

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Watch Your Units

When I took chemistry, both in high school and in college, a common warning from the professors was to ‘watch your units.’ Make sure that you tracked if the equations were in milligrams or whatnot and not lose track of those units, because mixing up units produced wildly erroneous results.

This is good advice in general. Always make sure that you are measure by the same methods and units otherwise you can’t compare things. A good example is unemployment.

Do you know what I have not heard from conservative talking heads and friends throughout the year of 2017? Labor Force Participation.

During the final years of the Obama administration, as unemployment fell, it was a quite common rebuttal from advocates on the right that that the raw unemployment figures were not the ‘true’ story and that one had to look at the terrible labor force participation, the percentage of the adult population that took part in wage labor to see that the Obama policies were actual failures covered-up by the falling unemployment figure.

Over the last year the Labor Force Participation rate has remained basically at the same level as it was during the last year of Obama’s presidency. Since now those on the right want to crow about a good economy they have changed out measuring sticks, throwing aside their former ‘truths.’

By the way this is in no way a fault that lies purely on the right. During the tail of Bush II’s administration I heard quite about ‘underemployment’ as the ‘true’ measure of the economy, and argument that vanished with the election of a Democratic president.

What’s really sad is how often these partisans will honestly forget that they ever used a different measure. With a new situation they’ll abandon their old certain truths for new certain truth that support their current position. This human failing is one of the great weaknesses in democracy, people rarely operate by purely rational means and that puts us at the whim of emotion, tribalism, and popularity.

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Misleading Language

On Facebook there is a news article being passed around about how the most recent spree shoot/killings represented the 11th school shoot of 2018 and one person on a friend’s page responded shocked that we have become so used to these events that they no longer become major news items.

Her confusion we led by the deceptive language of the headline and far too many people simply do not read beyond that.

When she read ’11th school shooting’ her mind conjured up the image of mass shootings, of vile people or persons stalking the hallways killing at random, of the horrific images of Columbine and Sandy Hook, but have there been 11 of those in just three weeks?

No.

So what are the details of those 11 shootings?

2 are suicides, a man who shot himself in a school’s parking lot and a 14-year-old boy who killed himself in a school bathroom.

3 incidents were bullets fired from unknown people outside of the school for unknown reasons that shattered school or bus windows .

1 was an accidental discharge after a firearms instructor left a live firearm in the classroom and students mistook it for a training device.

2 more were shots fired from vehicles, 1 person was injured but the reports do not state that the injured person suffered a gunshot wound,

1event followed an altercation at a fraternity event at a university that resulted in a death.

1 was a teenage girls shot in the cafeteria by a teenage boy. No one else of the 45 to 55 people present were shot.

And the final event was the mass shooting with two deaths at the Marshall county High School. That brings us to 11 shooting in or around schools but it is clear why nearly all of these failed to make national news.

Every murder is vile, every suicide is tragic and there is no doubt that we are in the midst of cultural crisis. As I have stated in other posts I think that we will reach of critical mass and there will be a state change in the public debate on this issue. (One that might be sped along by the degradation of the Republican Party by Trump.)

All that said, the deceptive language doe not help. The purpose of language is clear communication and it doesn’t matter if your are classifying every shot fired near a school as a school shooting or rebrand torture as enhanced interrogation, abusing the language is not the way to go.

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Why I Dislike the Doomsday Clock

Recently the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of their ‘doomsday’ clock to two minutes to midnight, with midnight representing “how close we are to destroying our world with dangerous technologies of our own making.”

The clock started in 1947 and for most of its existence the reference was to all out nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union. It is a potent symbol of our fears of the terrible price humanity could pay in a full nuclear war. A symbol used by Alan Moore in his classic graphical work Watchmen.

My problem with the Doomsday Clock is that is gives the impression of something quantified and scientific when it is really an opinion. The fact that the group is named The Bulletin of Atomic Scientist conjures up the impression of serious people in white coat armed with complex calculations when really watch we are seeing is the results of their own fears and impressions.

There is no quantifiable system by which the clock can be judged. There is no testable hypothesis, and objective formula, only their guess and yet every motion of the clock’s minute hand is treated with great reverence. A reverence that comes solely from the fact it is scientists making these opinion based proclamations.

Is it really two minutes to midnight? Hell, how can anyone know? I do know that I dislike quantifiable number being used to justify mere opinion.

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Documentary Review: Five Came Back

I did not get any fiction writing completed last night. While I have finally gotten over my flu, and this year’s number is quite a little beast, early in the evening the migraine gnomes arrived with his less than anticipated gifts. Instead, after taking the required medications, I settled into to complete a documentary series that I had started while still recovering from my flu; Five Came Back.

A Netflix original and based on the book of the same name this series, three episode each just over an hour in length, examines the lives of five legendary and award winning directors before during and after their service in World War II. Each man served as a filmmaker and as with everyone else who saw service in that global and terrible conflict each was changed by their experience. The Five were John Houston, John Ford, William Wyler, George Stevens, and Frank Capra.

The films produced by these men range from instructional movies and cartoon, including the classic Private SNAFU which featured the earlier work of Ted Geisel better known as Dr. Seuss, through blatant propaganda, and touching revelations about the ravages of psychic wounds.

A movie I commented on here a few months ago, Know Your Enemy: Japan a racist piece of propaganda, I can happily report was never actually screen to our troops. It only made it to the front just three days after the surrender and MacArthur banned its presentation.

If you have an interest in film, history, and the Venn diagram where these two fascinating fields overlap I cannot this series enough.

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The Framing

Whenever a story or narrative is presented there is also a framing as to how that story is presented. The frame, a negative space of assumptions and implicit understandings, guides in both how the story is told and how the story is understood. When you can see this supporting scaffolding you have a better understanding of what was left unsaid.

Usually the framing is not a conscious choice. All of us work from assumptions and things we simply accept implicitly so all of us use these shortcuts as foundations, but it is a good exercise to think about and search out these assumptions. Sometimes there are true, sometimes they are harmless fictions, but sometimes they reveal an uglier set of cultural biases.

Consider America’s current opioid crisis. There are tons of stories out there about the economic hardship, cultural devastation, and despair that have acted as the engine driving this addiction crisis. In addition to those factors others narratives portray the major pharmaceutical corporations as the bad guys, pushing drugs onto a weakened and depressed population.

There are several aspects to this framing of these narratives. There is the condescension, about theses economically and emotionally depressed people and how they have turned to drugs to alleviate their distress. There is also an element of agency-less. These poor people are victims of circumstance and forces beyond their control, pushed and pulled into a terrible addiction without the ability to determine their own course of action. It is not coincidence that the narratives tend to be crafted by elites in great urban centers about people and sub-cultures that the authors have little or no direct experience with.

But there is another layer to the framing and to see that one you need to think back on other great addiction waves and the narratives associated with those health crises.

When the crack cocaine epidemic swept the nation’s urban centers throughout the late 80s and into the 90s do you remember such sympathetic narratives? Did the author of article after article go into the terrible economic conditions of the decaying urban centers? Were column inches devoted to the hopelessness and despair that swept through the effected communities?

I will leave it to the reader to come to their own conclusions why the framing narratives have changed so radically.

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