Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for February 5th, 2017

When things go really wrong, they continue to go wrong: Enron and California electricity

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Kevin Drum has a very interesting post: the inital impact turns out to be the start.

Trump is really going wrong with the U.S. I imagine the repercussions will be felt for years if not decades.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2017 at 3:33 pm

Field of Fright The Terror Inside Trump’s White House

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Tom Englehardt of TomDispatch.com introduces a piece by Ira Chernus, a piece well worth reading, IMO:

Let’s face it: since 9/11 everything in our American world has been wildly out of proportion.  Understandably enough, at the time that attack was experienced as something other than it was.  In the heat of the moment, it would be compared to city-destroying or world-ending Hollywood disaster films (“It was like one of them Godzilla movies”), instantly dubbed “the Pearl Harbor of the twenty-first century,” or simply “A New Day of Infamy,” and experienced by many as nothing short of an apocalyptic event inflicted on this country, the equivalent of a nuclear attack — as NBC’s Tom Brokaw said that day, “like a nuclear winter in lower Manhattan,” or as the Topeka Capital-Journal headlined it in a reference to a 1983 TV movie about nuclear Armageddon, “The Day After.”  It was, of course, none of this.  No imposing imperial challenger had struck the United States without warning, as Japan did on December 7, 1941, in what was essentially a declaration of war.  It was anything but the nuclear strike for which the country had been mentally preparing since August 6, 1945 — as, in the years after World War II, American newspapers regularly drew futuristic concentric circles of destruction around American cities and magazines offered visions of our country as a vaporized wasteland.  And yet the remains of the World Trade Center were regularly referred to as “Ground Zero,” a term previously reserved for the spot where an atomic explosion had occurred. The 9/11 attacks were, in fact, mounted by the most modest of groups at an estimated cost of only $400,000 to $500,000 and committed by 19 hijackers using our own “weapons” (commercial airliners) against us.

However, the response from a Bush administration eager to strike in the Greater Middle East, especially against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, was to act as if the country had indeed been hit by nuclear weapons and as if we were now at war with a new Nazi Germany or Soviet Union. In the process, Bush officials took that first natural urge to go apocalyptic, to see our country as endangered at an existential level, and ran with it.  As a result, from September 12, 2001, on, the confusion, the inability to see things as they actually were, would never end.  The Bush administration, of course, promptly launched its own “global war on terror.” (GWOT was the acronym.)  Its officials then made that “global” quite real by insisting that they were planning to fight terrorism in a mind-boggling 60 or more countries around the planet.

Fifteen disastrous years later, having engaged in wars, occupations, or conflicts in at least seven countries in the Greater Middle East, having left failed or failing states littered in our path and spurred the spread of terror groups throughout that region and beyond, we now find ourselves in the age of Trump, and if it isn’t obvious to you that everything remains dangerously out of whack, it should be. Consider the set of former military men and associated figures the new president has appointed to run the national security state.  As TomDispatch regular and professor of religious studies Ira Chernus points out today, they uniformly believe — shades of GWOT — that our country is in a literal “world war” at this very second, and they seem to believe as well that its fate and the planet’s are at stake, even if none of them can quite decide whom it is we’re actually fighting. This struggle against, well, whomever, is so apocalyptic that, in their opinion, our very “Judeo-Christian” civilization is at stake. (Hence the recent Muslim ban, even if not quite called that.)  On all of this, Chernus offers their own grim, whacked-out words as proof.

Who could deny that, by now, many Americans have lost the ability to see the world as it is, put much of anything in perspective, or sort out genuine threats from fantasy constructs?  As a result, we’re led by delusional officials overseen, as if in some terrible Hollywood flick about the declining Roman Empire, by a mad, driven leader (who may be quite capable, in a matter of months, of turning the whole world against us).  If you don’t believe me, just plunge into Chernus today and into a fantasy war and an apocalyptic fate that supposedly awaits us if we don’t fight to the death against… well…

Perspective, context, proportion? Sorry, we don’t grok you, Earthling. Tom

Field of Fright
The Terror Inside Trump’s White House
By Ira Chernus

What kind of national security policy will the Trump administration pursue globally? On this issue, as on so many others, the incoming president has offered enough contradictory clues, tweets, and comments that the only definitive answer right now is: Who knows?

During his presidential campaign he more or less promised a non-interventionist foreign policy, even as he offered hints that his might be anything but.  There was, of course, ISIS to destroy and he swore he would “bomb the shit out of them.” He would, he suggested, even consider using nuclear weapons in the Middle East.  And as Dr. Seuss might have said, that was not all, oh no, that was not all.  He has often warned of the dangers of a vague but fearsome “radical Islam” and insisted that “terrorists and their regional and worldwide networks must be eradicated from the face of the Earth, a mission we will carry out.”  (And he’s already ordered his first special ops raid in Yemen, resulting in one dead American and evidently many dead civilians.)

And when it comes to enemies to smite, he’s hardly willing to stop there, not when, as he told CNN, “I think Islam hates us.” He then refused to confine that hatred to “radical Islam,” given that, on the subject of the adherents of that religion, “it’s very hard to define, it’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.”

And when it comes to enemies, why stop with Islam?  Though President Trump has garnered endless headlines for touting a possible rapprochement with Vladimir Putin’s Russia, he also suggested during the election campaign that he would be tougher on the Russian president than Hillary Clinton, might have “a horrible relationship” with him, and might even consider using nukes in Europe, presumably against the Russians. His apparent eagerness to ramp up the American nuclear arsenal in a major way certainly presents another kind of challenge to Russia.

And then, of course, there’s China.  After all, in addition to his own belligerent comments on that country, his prospective secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, and his press secretary, Sean Spicer, have both recently suggested that the U.S. should prevent China from accessing artificial islands that country has created and fortified in the South China Sea — which would be an obvious American act of war.

In sum, don’t take the promise of non-intervention too seriously from a man intent, above all else, on pouring money into the further “rebuilding” of a “depleted” U.S. military.  Just who might be the focus of future Trumpian interventions is, at best, foggy, since his vision of The Enemy — ISIS aside — remains an ever-moving target.

Suppose, though, we judge the new president not by his own statements alone, but by the company he keeps — in this case, those he chooses to advise him on national security. Do that and a strange picture emerges.  On one thing all of Trump’s major national security appointees seem crystal clear.  We are, each one of them insists, in nothing less than a world war in which non-intervention simply isn’t an option. And in that they are hardly kowtowing to the president.  Each of them took such a position before anyone knew that there would be a Donald Trump administration.

There’s only one small catch: none of them can quite agree on just whom we’re fighting in this twenty-first-century global war of ours.  So let’s take a look at this crew, one by one, and see what their records might tell us about intervention, Trump-style.

Michael Flynn’s Field of Fright

The most influential military voice should be that of retired Lieutenant General and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn (though his position is already evidently weakening).  He will lead the National Security Council (NSC), which historian David Rothkopf calls the “brain” and “nerve center” of the White House.  Flynn laid out his views in detail in the 2014 book he co-authored with neocon Michael Ledeen, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies (a volume that Trump, notorious for not reading books, “highly recommended”). To call Flynn’s views frightening would be an understatement.

America, Flynn flatly asserts, is “in a world war” and it could well be a “hundred-year war.” Worse yet, “if we lose this war, [we would live] in a totalitarian state… a Russian KGB or Nazi SS-like state.” So “we will do whatever it takes to win… If you are victorious, the people will judge whatever means you used to have been appropriate.”

But whom exactly must we defeat? It turns out, according to him, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2017 at 3:01 pm

The magic of politics: the irrationality of rational people

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In the Oxford University Press blog Matthew Flinders has a very interesting essay on James Randi and his career of debunking frauds and related issues in politics:

‘The Amazing Randi’ is by anyone’s measure quite a remarkable chap. His real name – Randall James Hamilton Zwinge – is pretty remarkable on its own, but over nearly ninety years James Randi has dedicated his life to challenging a whole host of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims. From faith healers to fortune-tellers, psychics to charlatans, and through to swindlers and conmen, the ‘Amazing Randi’ has debunked them all.

To understand what drives this little old man with a long white beard, a black cane, and twinkling eyes it is necessary to understand his life and how it has shaped him. Born in Ontario in 1928 James Randi dropped out of college and ran away with the circus after being amazed by a film featuring the famous magician Harry Blackstone. What followed was a life as a professional magician and escape artist who travelled the world in order to be locked in sealed boxes, hung over waterfalls, or trapped under water. In 1972 (incidentally the year of my birth but as far as I know there is no connection to ‘The Amazing Randi’) Randi entered the international spotlight when he publicly challenged the claims of a young man by the name of Uri Geller.

Now, I have no idea about whether Uri Geller has special powers or not. I don’t care. I am a simple man who can appreciate the bending of a metal spoon without asking too many questions. Apart from the fact, that is, that the spat between James Randi and Uri Geller really is something else. Randi’s position is that he has no problem with magicians fooling the public as long as it is for entertainment and fun; what he dislikes is when conmen and fakes use trickery to exploit the public. (Legal note: I am in no way linking Uri Geller with conmen or fakery. In fact I am rubbing a spoon while writing this blog.) What’s amazing is the lengths that James Randi has gone to in order to expose not only frauds, but gullible scientists who have too easily tended to corroborate supposedly special psychological powers. From the ‘Carlos Hoax’ in which Randi’s young partner pretended to be a ‘channeller’ who could provide a voice for souls from the past, through to the MacLab project in which he sent two young men to a university unit that had received funding to explore para-psychology. After months of detailed investigative scientific experiments the young men were hailed as possessing special powers only for James Randi to reveal in front of the world’s media that it was all a hoax. A film about his life and work – An Honest Liar – reveals just how cool James Randi is. He’s rocked with Alice Cooper and even appeared on Happy Days with the Fonze.

(Note to reader: metal bending skills improving – four forks and three knives now ruined.)

And yet in all the commentary and approbation regarding Randi’s unquestionably amazing life it strikes me that arguably the most important issue about the public’s relationship with charlatans and liars is over-looked: the public often don’t care!

Take the faith healer Peter Popoff as a case in point. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2017 at 1:32 pm

Posted in Politics, Science

The Smothers Brothers: Laughing at Hard Truths

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I well recall the Smothers Brothers and at one time could recite by heart a considerable portion of their albums. David Bianculli has a good story on them in the NY Times as part of the Times series on the Vietnam war 50 years ago. He writes:

On Sunday nights at 9, 50 years ago, more than a quarter of American households were watching NBC’s “Bonanza.” That comfortable and comforting western series was so dominant that CBS felt it had nothing to lose by taking a chance and giving that time slot to two brothers, musical satirists who interrupted songs like “Boil That Cabbage Down” and “Dance, Boatman, Dance” with ridiculous bouts of sibling rivalry.

The brothers, Tom and Dick Smothers, had had a successful run of appearances in nightclubs and on television variety shows with subversive takes on folk songs. When “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” made its premiere on Feb. 5, 1967, CBS figured the two men in their late 20s, clean-cut and appealing, might find a niche.

Two weeks later, the “Comedy Hour” beat “Bonanza” in the ratings. After a few weeks more, the brothers who had seemed so nonthreatening became more daring, making political and topical references and booking musical acts with new, often anthemic songs to sing. Censors in the network’s standards and practices office began cutting jokes, comments, even entire skits. The brothers’ challenges to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration and comments on other political issues became sharper. Battles with the network censors became more frequent. The brothers took their dispute to the press and became national symbols of countercultural resistance. A little more than two years after the show’s debut, CBS fired Tom and Dick Smothers and canceled their still-successful show.

But for the new generation coming of age in the late 1960s, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour” represented their view of the world, the only place on American prime-time TV where George Harrison would pop in unannounced to provide moral support for the brothers’ righteous struggle. There would be no other show on TV quite like it until “Saturday Night Live” had its premiere, in late night, in 1975.

Continue reading the main story

Dick Smothers, now 77, says he still encounters fans who say he and his brother were ahead of their time.

“Not correct at all,” Dick said in a telephone interview. “We would have been ineffective if we were ahead of our time. We were on time.” But, he added, “the time was right for us, too. It was like a big crane just dropped us down right at the start of the bubbling part of the ’60s.”

You wouldn’t get a sense of why the program caught on, or think that it would end up causing such a fuss, by looking at Tom and Dick in their matching red blazers on their earliest shows, hosting such guests as Jack Benny, Bette Davis and Jill St. John. But in the days when most homes had only one TV, which the whole family would watch together, the brothers and their writers started out by trying to appeal to multiple generations, then increasingly sought younger viewers.

“Tom and I had a bachelor pad together before the show started,” said Mason Williams, 79, who became the program’s head writer. “I remember watching TV with him, and Tom asking why there was nothing on for us and our friends.”

And there were a lot of folks like them. Thanks to the postwar baby boom, 90 million Americans — almost half the population — were under 25 years old. And stodgy network TV — about all there was on TV then — didn’t reflect their culture or the turmoil they were experiencing.

At the beginning of 1967, the State Department announced that 5,008 Americans had been killed in Vietnam in 1966, fueling nationwide protests. Also at the start of that year, Muhammad Ali, perhaps the most prominent athlete in the world, fought induction into the Army on religious grounds and condemned the war. Timothy Leary, Jerry Rubin, the Grateful Dead and others held the Human Be-In in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, where Leary told people to take psychedelic drugs and “turn on, tune in, drop out.”

For the younger audience who looked longingly at the San Francisco scene, the “Comedy Hour” began presenting new bands like Jefferson Airplane and the Electric Prunes and hip comics like George Carlin. The show’s sketches and jokes might seem tame now, but they signaled that the program was at the center of the social hurricane.

Buffalo Springfield appeared in the third episode, singing “For What It’s Worth,” with its refrain that would make it a counterculture anthem of resistance: “There’s something happening here.”

Before the ninth show, the network censors for the first time banned the broadcast of a sketch, written by the guest star Elaine May, which they considered objectionable because it made fun of censors.  [Whose ox is gored? – LG]

Continue reading.

Other articles in the series are listed on this page.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2017 at 10:57 am

ReviewMeta rectifies Amazon reviews

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ReviewMeta.com in effect reviews the reviews in Amazon. “ReviewMeta.com analyzes millions of reviews and helps you decide which ones to trust.”

They have a detailed explanation of how it works:

Review platforms like Amazon and Bodybuilding.com have done an amazing job at gathering hundreds of millions of datapoints of customer feedback on the products that they sell. They are an absolute necessity in helping customers navigate the millions of products available to them.  Unfortunately, many brands have chosen to abuse the platforms that were created to help customers, flooding them with low quality and biased reviews to try and boost their own profits.

Everyone has their own method of quickly investigating a product’s reviews to check if they are legit or not. You might read the most helpful review, then see what the negative reviewers are saying, scan a few more reviews then ultimately go with your gut feeling.

At ReviewMeta we are also investigating product reviews – but our methods don’t rely on gut feelings. We leverage algorithms and data science and have the ability to scan thousands of reviews and identify unnatural patterns in just seconds.

Here’s a bit more about how our system works:

First, we gather review data.  . . .

Continue reading.

Naturally enough, I plugged in the URL for the Guide, and got this result:

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Written by LeisureGuy

5 February 2017 at 10:06 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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