The Natural Divide

Last week I was watching the movie Ninotchka.  Greta Garbo portrays a scowling Russian envoy who’s in Paris to negotiate the sale of jewels confiscated from the aristocracy to provide hard currency to capitalize the communist regime.  There she meets Melvyn Douglas playing the French nobleman Count Leon d’Algout.  He is working to return the jewels to his friend the former Grande Duchess Swana.  And of course, he falls in love with Garbo.  As a good soviet citizen, she despises his mercenary business practices.  But he does what he can to ingratiate himself to her.  Finally, he manages to manufacture a “coincidental” restaurant encounter.  While attempting to lighten the mood he offers to tell a joke to get her to laugh.  Several attempts fall flat without even a smile from her sullen face.  Finally he tells her his best joke:

“A man walks into a restaurant, calls over the waiter and says I want a cup of coffee without cream.  The waiter goes into the kitchen and returns a minute later and says I’m very sorry but we’re all out of cream can it be without milk?”

The rest of the patrons of the restaurant overhear the joke and all burst out laughing at the punchline.  But from Ninotchka, nothing.  Leon is incensed.  He hectors her, “Everyone else laughed.  Why didn’t you?”  She replies, “Because it isn’t funny.”  He becomes flustered and says he’ll tell it again more slowly and make sure she understands it.  He retells it, stumbling over the details and finally asks, “Well?”  “It’s not funny” she says.  Exasperated, he tells her she doesn’t have a drop of humor in her.  He leans back in his chair puts his elbow on the table behind him and goes crashing to the floor along with the table and chair.  The whole restaurant bursts out in laughter at him.  Leon gets off the floor and tries to gather his shattered dignity in the face of the uproar of laughter.  And then he sees that Ninotchka is almost falling over with laughter at his plight.  He looks down with a scowl that combines anger and hurt pride.  Ninotchka stops laughing and seems slightly contrite when Leon bursts out laughing himself and they share a good laugh.

So why am I telling you this old movie scene?  It’s a good enough scene and the acting was fine.  But retelling movies is a waste of time.  I relate it because it occurred to me that it illustrates a dichotomy that I have seen in my own acquaintance.

The world divides itself very clearly into two groups.  People who find that joke at least slightly amusing and those who see absolutely no humor in it at all.  Within my own marriage this difference exists.  Even among my children, the dichotomy is there.  Among friends and colleagues the same thing .  Two camps.  So, what is this characteristic?  I’m not entirely sure.  Maybe it has to do with the way people use language.  It seems that those who are quieter do not find the joke funny.  It may be something well known or maybe it’s meaningless.  But I throw it out there and encourage you all to try it out.  Tell someone the joke and then ask him if it is not at all funny or at least somewhat funny.  See if you can determine some grouping within these camps that explains the dichotomy.  If you come up with a theory pass it along to me.  And tell me who you think are the happier group.  Those that laugh at it or those that don’t.  For the sake of complete disclosure I think it’s funny.

Trump vs Inertia

White House West Wing –

President Trump (PT) – Bannon, Bannon, Steve! Get in here willya?

Steve Bannon (SB) – Right here Mr. President. How can I help you?

PT – I see a lot of headlines saying my popularity is in the 30s. Is that true?

SB – Probably more like low 40s but it has dropped a little since the Obamacare debacle. I’d say there’s nothing to worry about.  The Gorsuch approval will give you a nice bump and the Rice Spying reveal should also get you some points.

PT – Well, I guess that’s all true but I want to get things moving again. We need to produce some excitement around here.  People want to see action.

SB – Okay, do you have anything particular in mind?

PT – Yes, I do. You know how we have been touting all these jobs that Ford and Carrier and Walmart are opening up?  Well, it’s time to roll out a program to get existing small businesses to expand.  We need to put something in place to bust us out of the doldrums.

SB – Well, we’re already working on fixing the tax code to eliminate the problems slowing down small business growth.

PT – That’s slow motion progress. I need an explosion of growth.  We need something to start a fire.  What about a tax holiday for any business with sales less than hundred million dollars?  Let’s say for the next four years.

SB – That should make you real popular around the next election.

PT – Yeah sure, but more important, it will get things moving. It’ll get people working.  And it’ll benefit regular people instead of those global corporations that don’t actually like this country.  Any time I can give those bums a thumb in the eye I will.

SB – Hmm. That’s pretty good. But what happens when this holiday ends?  Won’t they shed those jobs?

PT – Not likely. They’ll be making money and they will want to make more.  Plus by then you slow pokes will have jiggered the tax code to make business more fair to the little guys right?

SB – Absolutely Mr. President.. Mike Pence is working with Ryan and McConnell to push it through.

PT – Oh Good Lord! We better get this tax holiday pushed through as soon as possible.  The way those guys get things done, my job rating will be a negative number before they start the reconciliation.

SB – I’ll put a team together to get it going. Wouldn’t it be a good idea if you were the salesman behind this idea?  You can be quite persuasive.

PT – Sure I’ll start the ball rolling but my idea is that we find about a hundred small companies that are ready to expand if the right business climate existed. We showcase these American businesses and point to the areas around them that would benefit from these new jobs.  If you can find stuff in the Rust Belt and the inner cities, so much the better.

SB – That’s pretty good.

PT – Yeah well we’ve got an advantage we aren’t from DC so we still know where money actually comes from. And I don’t mean the Treasury.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 2

In the first installment of this post I documented my education into the real world of scientists, how they saved the world from giant mutated insects and invented important stuff like flying cars. That time period was the 1960s. It was a carefree time full of youthful high jinx such as race riots and the Manson Family. Fast forward thirty years to 1993. A little movie came out called Matinee. It was about the 1960s. The movie employs a device that I like to call “a movie within a movie.” It’s called that because within the movie you are watching there is a movie being watched by the characters in the movie! It’s a wild concept.

The name of this internal movie is MANT. That’s a portmanteau for man-ant. The eponymous victim of this movie has been transformed from a man into a hybrid man/ ant creature. Once again radiation is involved and eventually the MANT reaches gigantic proportions. And right on schedule arrives the scientist that has glasses and a beard and explains all the technical jargon about this scientific problem. And by an amazing coincidence it’s our old friend Dr. “You’re Wiser Than We Are” from “The Thing from Another World” (Robert Cornthwaite). I mean, what are the odds? He makes such valuable pronouncements as “human/insect mutations are far from an exact science” and “My friend, you’ve suffered some of the worst that our little friend the atom has to offer. It can power a city or level it!”

I was fascinated by the changes I noted in Cornthwaite between the time he was in “The Thing” and “Mant”. No longer was he sympathetic toward the monsters. His allegiance had shifted back to humanity. I attributed this change to the smoldering resentment he felt after the Thing back-handed him into a wall in the earlier movie. Such ingratitude by the monster pushed our friend back into the Humanity First camp once again. I knew this was valuable information. I wrote it down!
Outside of the movie Mant (but inside of Matinee) a teenage girl (played by Lisa Jakub) is swept up in the drama surrounding the Cuban Missile Crisis (and the premiere of Mant) in the southern Florida town of Key West. This girl is the daughter of beatniks and she has her world view changed by exposure to a young Navy brat who also happens to like horror movies. When the movie ends Lisa has gotten over her prejudices against military families and monster movies. What does this have to do with this post? Well it does link us back to the military but hang in there. I have another half-baked segue coming up.
Fast forward to 1998 and a blockbuster called Independence Day erupts onto the cinematic stage. Now it just so happens that there is an ex-Navy pilot named Russel Kay and by a strange coincidence (or is it) his daughter is played by Lisa Jakub! But her love of a navy brat in the last movie has landed her in this movie in a family headed by a delusional alcoholic ex-military flier. Although it’s not apparent how she feels about horror movies she definitely suffers some of the worst of what our friends the aliens have to offer. In Independence Day, the role of scientist is handled by Jeff Goldblum. He is an environmentalist computer scientist who’s always worried about recycling and is totally opposed to nuking the aliens. He’s worried that fallout is worse than extermination of the entire human race by death rays. But by the end of the movie he comes around and cheerfully nukes the aliens on their home base.
I was thinking of dragging this forward by following President Whitmore forward into Lake Placid (well the crocodile is very large) or following Jeff Goldblum into Jurassic Park and Independence Day 2 which has all kinds of scientific mumbo-jumbo and giant creatures but I’m getting tired.
Suffice it to say that even really stupid people and fat-headed scientists can see reality if monsters and giant insects start slapping them around.
And now my patient readers, the payoff.
All of this research has allowed me to formulate a unified theory of scientific behavior. Apparently all scientists are morons and can only learn about reality by being hit over the head by it. Therefore, I propose a new policy. Whenever a scientist dictates a policy based on fat-headed stupidity he should be forced to endure the solution himself until he either sees the error of his way or dies from the paradox of settled science.
For instance, if a climate scientist declares CO2 the death of the planet then he should not produce any of it himself. Now, I don’t propose that he cease breathing. Even though technically respiration is nothing but exchanging O2 for CO2. Let’s just let him slide on the breathing. But that’s all. No internal combustion engines or heating systems or electricity. In fact, nothing produced by technology supported by the industrial revolution. So that also eliminates batteries and solar cells and everything else made in a factory. And finally, I remind everyone that burning coal or oil or even wood produces CO2. So, this scientist is telling us to give up every bit of science going all the way back to the paleolithic age. So, let us limit our friend the scientist to killing fur-bearing animals and eating their flesh and wearing their pelts for warmth. Of course, he’s probably a vegan but we all have to make compromises when inconsistencies crop up.
That’s my plan in a nutshell. It should be amusing to see Al Gore dressed like Fred Flintstone and trying to catch a squirrel for breakfast.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 1

On Saturday afternoons when I was a kid I used to watch Million Dollar Movie on Channel 11 and was able to enjoy such science fiction classics as “Attack of the Crab Monsters” and “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.”  Right away I figured out that really big creatures that had been exposed to atomic radiation really liked to attack.  But as I became more sophisticated in my sci-fi viewing I eschewed such childish cinematic offerings in favor of more cerebral tales.  No more ridiculous giant crab stories.  I graduated to “Them” which is the realistic depiction of an attack by giant ants exposed to atomic radiation.  In this classic of the fifties I learned that scientists were old and wore glasses and looked like Santa Claus (except for the girl scientists who were young and didn’t even look like Mrs. Claus and tended to end up with the FBI agent who starred in the film, who in this case was James Arness of Gunsmoke fame).  And the best ones had British accents (or at worst New England accents).  Also, no matter what their area of specialization (e.g., physics, botany or myrmecology) they were all equally adept at battling giant creatures exposed to atomic radiation.  And they were full of esoteric and valuable information.  I found out that the plural of antenna wasn’t antennas but rather antennae!  This inspired in me a life-long love of the classical Greek and Latin languages.  And the most important characteristic of scientists was their love of knowledge.  Because of this thirst for knowledge, they were willing to venture into tunnels and basements where even the ubiquitous soldiers in their WWII vintage uniforms were afraid to go.  It also meant the scientists were very likely to be munched on by the mutant du jour of the story.  But you know, science.  So that is how I came to admire scientists.  They were cool and smart too.  And they always, always, always figured out how to kill the monsters.

But one Saturday, Million Dollar Movie was playing another sci-fi film, “The Thing from Another World.”  I was suspicious at first.  If it was from another world how did it get here?  Had it been exposed to atomic radiation?  Would there be enough scientists?  These doubts plagued me.  But I decided to give it a whirl.  Encouraging signs emerged quickly.  The creature was indeed radioactive and there was a whole passel of scientists assigned to this movie.  One of them even had a New England accent so things seemed to check out.  And reassuringly the US military was available for monster eradication duty once the scientists had done the heavy lifting of analysis.  Early on a problem arose.  This creature was man shaped.  He was bald and had strange hands with hypodermic finger nails.  But he was no more than eight feet tall.  This was highly irregular and seemed to throw into doubt his qualifications for his own movie.  Also the scientists in this movie were extremely assertive and gave the military officers a lot of lip.  And it seemed they didn’t know their primary function, figure out how to kill the monster.  This was very confusing.  The leader of the scientists kept saying that regardless of how many humans the creature killed, science demanded that no force should be used against it.  He kept saying (in a really annoying intonation) that the creature “is wiser than we are” and that “it’s our duty to die to preserve the knowledge this creature possesses.”  Even as a youngster I intuited that this head scientist was what we called back then “a loser.”  How could this be?  He was a scientist!  He had the answers.  I found this very puzzling and dispiriting.  I searched for some reason for this failure on the scientist’s part to want to kill the monster.  Eventually I developed an hypothesis based on a detailed comparison of “Them” and “The Thing from Another World.”  At first glance nothing jumped out.  But once I checked the cast members it all became clear.  As mentioned above, in “Them” the part of the FBI Agent and eventual boyfriend of the scientist’s daughter is played by James Arness of “Gunsmoke” fame.  It turned out that the part of the Thing was played by none other than James Arness!  Well obviously if Arness was the prospective son-in-law of one scientist, then it stood to reason that a fellow scientist would not turn on him.  What was at work here was the kind of professional courtesy that, for instance, police confer on each other’s family members.  Now it made perfect sense.  Crisis averted.  I could become a scientist without becoming a loser.  But I was troubled by all that talk of monsters being wiser than us.  And not killing them but instead letting them kill us.  It was very strange.

Fast forward forty years.  I work as an engineer.  I am surrounded by R&D PhDs.  They all look and sound like the head scientist in “The Thing from Another World.”  They drive Priuses and have Tolerance and Coexist, Bernie and Free Tibet bumper stickers on their cars.  And suddenly it all makes sense.

Scientists Real and Imagined – Part 2

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 2 – The Series Finale

A Eulogy for Grimm – Part 1

 

Spoiler Alert.  If you haven’t seen it and don’t want to know, don’t read this.

So, last night I watched it.  Oh, Good Lord.  The only theory that could deflect shame from everyone involved in this fiasco is if the writers had all been fired and instead the Producer’s teenage daughter wrote it, while attending a school dance, while texting her best friends, while breaking up with her boyfriend, during a hurricane.  Even as an ironic joke or as part of a drinking game (let’s say a tequila shot after each important character is brutally slaughtered) it’s unwatchable.  Rather than belabor the point with countless examples of awful television viewing let me cut to the chase.  At the climax of the show the hero is about to betray the world to the devil by surrendering to him this ultimate weapon when he is stopped by a young woman snatching it away.  He then chases her down, beats her into submission and is heading back to surrender it again when his dead mother and dead aunt calling to him from heaven shame him into a debate about fighting back.  But he’s so broken from the beating he’s been given by the devil that the only way he agrees to fight is if his mother and his aunt will fight for and with him.  Think about this for a moment.  A grown man has to be helped in a fight by his mother!  And in fact, most of the damage in the battle is done by his dead female relatives.  This truly represents the low ebb of masculinity on broadcast TV.  After the victory, there’s a sort of alternate reality scene change where all the main characters are alive again and don’t remember any of the climax as if it didn’t actually happen.  Nick starts hugging them all and seems pretty close to blubbering and it’s reminiscent of Dorothy awaking in her bed in Kansas.  “You were there and you were there, and there’s no place like home.”  Good Lord.  Then the very final scene is twenty years in the future and his son and his baby mamma’s daughter (by his mortal enemy and police chief boss) are now Grimms getting ready to head off with Mom and Dad for some good old American Wessen slaughtering.  Good clean fun.  Good Lord.

I confess I liked this show when it first came out.  My only defense is that it was in the early Obama years and I needed something absurd to allow me to think that maybe none of what was going on in the world was real.  After all, if a whole American city could be composed of monsters without any humans suspecting then maybe somehow the world would manage to escape the Obama presidency without mortal damage being done.  Silly me.  Luckily, now we’re in the age of Trump and I don’t need fantasies to distract me.  The reality is bizarre (and entertaining) enough.  So, farewell to Nick and Juliette.  Farewell to Monroe and Rosalee.  Long may you inhabit Wessen-infested make-believe Portland Oregon which is a distinct improvement over the actual horror of SJW infested Portland.

Fake News for April Fools

Back when George W was still president I discovered Real Clear Politics (RCP) as a site that included at least a few of the not so-left-leaning news sources and polls during elections.  It became one of the easiest links to finding conservative information and opinion.  I guess, it still is.  At least I still visit it for news.  But, my God, what a mess.  Listen to these headlines:

Trump’s Chumps

The Landmines that Could Kill Trump’s Tax Cuts

WH Struggles to Get Out from Under Russia Controversy

Are the Brits Bonkers to Brexit?

Walking Away from the ACA Not an Option for GOP

Nunes Was Supposed to Probe Collusion, Not Commit It

How Do Men Like Trump Win?  Let My Fictional Panel Explain

And even from supposedly friendly sources, the best we get is:

Mistakes, He’s Made A Few Too Many

I mean, honestly, WTF.  And if you keep score of the articles written specifically by the staff of RCP you’ll quickly see that they’re no better than the Washington Post or the New York Times.  Now, of course, the Post and the Times (and the rest of the Old Guard) are obviously performing the same services for the Democrats as they did back when W was in office.  The calculation is that a constant drum beat of gloom, doom and slander will eventually damage President Trump enough to stop his agenda and turn the nation against him.  With W it worked.  Once the war turned sour he was slowly ground down by the press.  Of course, Trump isn’t W.  He attacks the press instinctively, successfully and with relish.  And his agenda will be for the most part popular with every day Americans.  So, I’m willing to let him do his thing for at least a few weeks at a time without panicking at the sight of unfriendly headlines.  After all, it’s currently the democrats who seem to be whistling past the graveyard with these headlines.  Next week the Senate may already have Gorsuch seated on the Supreme Court.  And even the knuckleheads in Congress seem to be trying to get their act together.  I’m of the opinion that all the headlines about poll numbers plunging and panicking republicans are pure spin.  So, what’s this post about?  I’m just complaining.  I’m pretty sick and tired of not having a reliable go-to site with the content I want.  But with a little fishing around I can generally see news and opinion that I want.  Here’s where I go:

http://www.realclearpolitics.com/  Yeah, I still go there first (groan).

http://drudgereport.com/  Well, of course, you’ve gotta (and it can be hilarious).

https://amgreatness.com/  This where Publius Decius Mus used to write.  I like a lot of the opinion pieces they write.  And they don’t have any obvious NeverTrumpers on staff.

And there are other more radical sites but I’ll leave them for another day.

So that is currently where I gather my information.  RCP and Drudge are news aggregators so effectively this allows me to cherry pick the best of what’s out there.  But that means there is a lot of dross there too.  American Greatness only gives opinion.  Between these sites I get most of what I want.  And of course for all of the rest of the world there is the most important opinion site of all Orion’s Cold Fire (OCF)!  I mean, come on, of course it is!  But modesty forbids me to elaborate on the obvious.  So enjoy April Fool’s Day (naturally, it’s snowing here today) but don’t be fooled by the foolish headlines.  All’s right in this best of all possible worlds.  I guess?