All posts by mallagher

Your Almost Daily Borowitz: What’s With the Anglo Saxon Thingie?

From The New Yorker

Marjorie Taylor Greene Calls for the Development of Anglo-Saxon Space Lasers

“Anglo-Saxons have for too long ceded space-laser superiority to the airborne laser beams of foreign banking élites,” she said. “This shall not stand on my watch.”

Covid-19 Update

Of Special Note

  • Israel lifts outdoor mask mandate
  • Global deaths from Covid now exceed 3 million
  • Turkey has a surge in infections
  • Half of US adults have received at least one hab
  • Vaccine shortage in India as infections surge

From NYT

  • Israel / Restrictions – Israel rescinded its outdoor mask mandate on Sunday, while schools fully reopened for the first time since September. Though some Israelis were enthusiastic about feeling the sunshine on their faces, others were hesitant to remove the layer of protection they had grown accustomed to. About 56 percent of the Israeli population has been fully vaccinated, according to a New York Times database, while daily coronavirus infections have fallen from a peak of 10,000 in January to around 100 on some recent days. Israel’s health minister, Yuli Edelstein, urged people to continue carrying masks with them for entry into indoor public spaces, where they are still required. While 85 percent of people age 16 and older in Israel are either vaccinated or recovered from the virus, virus variants still pose some risk.
  • Global / Death Rate -The global death toll from Covid-19 surpassed three million on Saturday.
  • France / Restrictions – France will limit and quarantine travelers from Argentina, Brazil, Chile and South Africa, countries in which worrying variants are on the rise.
  • Bhutan / Vaccinations -The tiny Himalayan nation of Bhutan has given more than 60 percent of its population a shot, thanks to a comprehensive two-week campaign that included health workers in some cases hiking through ice and snow to reach people.
  • India / Infections – A devastating second wave of the coronavirus in India may undo decades of progress that has, in fits and starts, brought hundreds of millions of people out of poverty.
  • Turkey / Infections -Turkey reported another record high in daily coronavirus cases as new restrictions were imposed for the two first weeks of Ramadan.

From BI

From HuffPo

From Vox

From The Guardian

writer’s Corner: Finding Tension

When we see an image like this

Harold Lloyd | Biography, Movies, & Facts | Britannica

the tension is obvious. Notice, btw, that the character that Harold Lloyd is playing (with his boater hat and suit) pushes that tension to an absurd level. How could a nice young man like that find himself in such a situation? But knowing that this is a comedy, we in the audience feel sure that somehow things will be ok. We cannot imagine how, but we have that gut feeling. That makes the scene watchable.

And that tension makes the scene an irresistible part of the narrative

From the audience’s perspective, this is an impossible situation. From the writer’s perspective, however, being able to recognize impossible situations like this one is a starting point for creating narratives that audiences will engage with. Indeed, seeing them may be the first thing that gets a story going in the writer’s imagination.

Larry David carried a notebook with him to jot down these types of situations for later use in his “Curb Your Enthusiasm” series. I guess he probably still does.

Consider this scene

Something like this actually happened in Larry’s real life, except that in real life, he thanked the wife too. Larry pointed out in an interview, however, that he was actually tempted in real life to challenge the wife, even though he didn’t do it. But his Curb Your Enthusiasm character has the courage of his convictions — as absurd as they may be — to do what the real Larry David would never do. And that is what makes the character much more fun to follow than the real person. So when the real life event was over, Larry grabbed his notebook and jotted down the scene on a single page. Later, he used it to great effect as part of a narrative where he unleashed his inner self.

Lesson learned: as writers, we need to be sensitive to our “inner selves” — characters that we restrain and control in real life in order to get through the day. And as we get closer to our inner selves (they may be multiple) we begin to see reality as narrative starting points. And we can begin to think about how to portray our inner selves through engaging narratives.

An obvious example of this way of using reality can be found in the scribblings of Ernest Hemingway. The events of the “The Sun Also Rises“, for example, actually happened, almost as Hemingway wrote them out in the novel. Indeed, the real person who served as the model for Robert Cohn was deeply offended by the novel. But Hemingway had a powerful inner self who wanted to come out in the form of Jake Barnes (the narrator and hero of the story). Jake is — and perhaps Hemingway wanted to be — the wounded war vet who has to overcome the devastating impact of his war injury to carry on in life. And so after the real life events were over, papa gleefully used what happened to create the narrative that we read as fiction.

Or we might take a peek at the way Dickens wrote. In the privacy of his writing studio, he acted out the dialogues of his characters and jotted down what he was saying as he went forward. All of Dickens comes out of his inner selves that were acted out.

The trick here is that our “inner selves” exist for reasons. They exist because they are manifestations of deep emotions. And if these emotions are deep enough and honest enough, others can relate to them. When we share them, people feel the tug of something deeper in themselves as well. And if they don’t, the narrative falls flat.

Here is a signal to the writer than the tension he or she is trying to create is not going to carry the narrative — when the writer struggles to portray the vulnerabilities of the characters in simple terms, the tension will not resonate with the audience. That is why I like the Harold Lloyd image — things could not be simpler or more difficult.

Simple, right? But do you think and write that way?

Future Talk: Can Humans “Hit the Bullseye” to survive the 21st Century?

We are going through a period of disruption. That disruption is caused by the growing realization that the great stuff that added such huge value int he 20th century, is not what we need most in the 21st century. It is a disruption of values.

To be more precise, the 20th century was the high point of the industrial era. Humans pretty much figured out how to squeeze huge value out of allocating capital to build productive resources (like factories) and distribute goods and services across broad markets (taking advantage of economies of scale). It has been a wild ride!

To see that, consider how people lived in 1900 compared to how they lived in 2000. The changes are breathtaking in almost every way. And one gets an even more intense shock considering how people lived in 1800 compared to 1900 and then 2000. One of the great 20th century cultural shifts (according to Bertrand Russell) was the demolition of the concept that social institutions were solid and unchangeable

But in the year 2021, we are beginning to see more clearly that making and consuming all of that stuff does not necessarily make us happier. To be blunt, that is a false promise of advertising. Not just that, we are beginning to understand ourselves in a much more nuanced way than our parents and their parents ever did. That increased understanding enables us to make better decisions than they did. And most obviously, we see that prioritizing consumption above all else has huge side effects. We are beginning to realize that better applications of new knowledge can be far more value adding than just making and consuming more stuff. We are even beginning to value the future — even the future when we might not be around any more — over the present.

In order words, we are entering the knowledge era.

A key point –— a significant part of this revolution in thinking is due to improved technology. We can achieve a lot more with our minds at least in part because tech enables us to do so. But the disruptions we are and will experience are not just about improved tech. They are about our expanded consciousness of what we want from life that drives us forward. Tech is the tool, not the master of the process.

So how will this shake out? No one knows. In this podcast, two really smart dudes speculate about what we are most likely to see — great opportunities and huge risks. And we may need to figure out how to avoid the risks quickly, or …. well things could get really bad.

Enjoy!

A quick comment about the podcast. You may note that both Yuval and Dan are most concerned about the abuse of tech (especially AI) by the great and mighty. In other words, they fear centralized power that is not accountable to human needs and desires. Their concerns are easily understood, as we saw huge agglomerations of power in the 20th century as well as huge abuses of power. And the two genlemen make repeated references to examples of the abuses. We see this today as well.

But neither great thinker touches on an aspect of change that may help us avoid this nightmare scenario — decentralization that is enabled by new tech that builds locally based value. In other words, tech that makes it more expensive to be centralized than decentralized. And if there is no need for centralized authority, it will be more difficult for people wanting to build those types of institutions to thrive.

Based on his research on disruption,Tony Seba predicts that this trend to decentralize will be a signature feature of the near future. We shall soon see if he is right. BTW, Tony also warns that the economic disruptions that he believes are imminent and inevitable are likely to cause unpredictable political disruptions, especially as entrenched interests feel the threat from innovation. In other words, there is a consensus that we are sailing in troubled waters.

It is time to focus. To participate. To engage.

Onward!

Kitchen Corner – Corn Pudding to the Rescue!

I have found myself more than once in the position of having to bring a dish to a group dinner. WTF! I never know what to make. Aha! Until now! Now I know – corn pudding a la Chef John. This has the unbeatable combination of (1) being easy to make fir a group, and (2) delicious enough to get some recognition.

Here is your video! Put it in your digital menu page — if you have one. Enjoy!

Covid-19 Update

Of Special Interest

  • Covid booster vaccines will likely be needed at least on an annual basis
  • India infection rate exceeds 200,000 in a day
  • Surge in Cambodia and Thailand

From NYT

  • Global Vaccine Distribution – Covax, the W.H.O.-led effort to promote Covid-19 vaccination in the world’s lowest-income countries, is trying to raise an additional $2 billion to help secure access to doses before they are snapped up by wealthier nations. The U.S. has already pledged $2 billion to the initiative in 2021, with another $2 billion to come next year. The money would go to reserve future production capacity to supply nations that have either had not enough doses or, in some cases, none at all. A fund-raising event brought in more than $380 million in pledges, most of it from Sweden, with smaller amounts coming from other countries and private foundations, including one sponsored by Google. Leaders of the effort have also appealed to wealthier countries to donate a portion of their own vaccine supplies, to help rectify a vast and growing inequity in global distribution between richer and poorer parts of the world. New Zealand announced it would donate enough doses for 800,000 people in lower-income countries. More than 841 million vaccine doses have been administered worldwide, about 11 doses for every 100 people. But many poorer countries are yet to report a single dose.
  • Japan / Olympics – Though he later walked back his comments, a leading member of Japan’s governing party said that the country would consider canceling the Tokyo Olympics if rising coronavirus cases are not brought under control.
  • United States / Vaccine Opposition — Vaccines remain partisan in the U.S.: Two-fifths of Republicans say they do not plan to receive any vaccine, while two-thirds of Democrats report having had at least one dose.
  • United States / Pandemic Side Effects – Despite dire predictions, the number of suicides in the U.S. fell by 5 percent last year, although the decline appears to have been concentrated among white Americans.
  • India / Infections – India recorded more than 200,000 new infections yesterday, a record. Workers are fleeing cities, potentially carrying the outbreak to rural areas less equipped to handle it.

From BI

From HuffPo

From Vox

From the Guardian

Deconstructing The Slow Motion Train Wreck of American Intervention in Afghanistan

After 9/11, there was no question that George W was going to hunt down Bin Laden and skewer the dude if he could. As a political matter, considering the popularity bounce that George got from playing the “tough guy” after the 9/11 attack, he may have had no choice. So in the American military went all the way to Kabul.

The question at that moment — and it is a question that no one ever answered — was what then? BTW, George W faced the same question after the US military entered Baghdad. And once again, the question went unanswered.

It was obvious as the nose on your face that America, its allies, the UN and all the other folks who hoped they could change Afghanistan were not going to change Afghanistan. But they had to make the invasion look good (righteous), and so they tried, and tried, and tried again to make Afghanistan a paradise for democracy and human rights. Twenty years later, Joe Biden has pulled the plug on the mess, and will bring the troops (what is left of them) back home.

Why was this mission impossible? The main military problem was that the taliban could always retreat out of the reach of the US military across the border into Pakistan. The US might sporadically go after them there, but could not systematically clear them out without provoking the ire of the Pakistanis (who BTW have nukes). Even after the taliban started killing Pakistani police, the Pakistanis did not reverse course and get rid of them. They just boxed the taliban into the wild lands on the Afghani border. and made it clear to them that their role was to kill Americans, not Pakistanis.

Wait a minute! Isn’t Pakistan an American ally? So why didn’t the Pakistanis get rid of the taliban for the Americans? Sadly, the reason appears to be geopolitical. The Pakistani ruling elite wants to dominate Afghanistan, and they think they can do so by using the taliban. That means that after the US pulls out, the taliban will launch their attack, and with covert Pakistani help, will probably take over Afghanistan once more. Yes, this will be a mess again.

To put this in perspective, you might recall that Pakistan was created in the great partition of 1947 because Muslims in eastern and northwest parts of the Raj wanted their own Muslim state. It is still a Muslim state, and it wants Afghanistan to be its Muslim brother in its eternal struggle against India, that has a huge Muslim population but is not a Muslim state. This religious aspect of geopolitics in that region will not just disappear because Americans don’t like it and don’t understand it.

So BTW, if you are an Afghan who worked with the Americans, you might want to get out while you can. And the Americans who used you should give you a free pass to do so. Will we? Probably only in a very limited fashion.

And what about nation building? You simply cannot do this at gun point. Nation building requires local loyalty, and local loyalties are nurtured by local traditions and understandings. Trying to change these from the top down is at best, a very, very slow moving process. Consider, for example that more than half a century after the Untied States was formed, the southern states still clung to their local “peculiar institution” of chattel slavery. And even more than a century after a horrendous civil war ended slavery, Americans still have a race problem, laws be damned!

The most absurd part of the US adventure in Afghanistan was trying to import US values into a country that not only has not experienced the enlightenment, but that has no interest in it. So US experiments to instill democratic rule, the rule of law, etc. were doomed to failure, and indeed failed. And those training events for Afghani judges on constitutional law? Well, let’s just say that the coffee and pastries served during the coffee breaks were refreshing.

So are there any lessons to be learned from Afghanistan?

I hate to say it, but it is the same lesson that Napoleon should have learned in Spain, and that the US should have learned in Vietnam. It is not that hard for a major power to install a puppet regime in a weak state. It is a lot harder to make that puppet regime legitimate and popular in the eyes of the local public so that it can be sustained by locals in the face of a determined military assault. Are folks prepared to die for that regime? If not, the adventure will sooner or later implode.

In case you are wondering, that is why the US still has a large military presence in Korea nearly70 years after the “peace” deal that supposedly ended the Korean war was done.. And the South Korean government is not even a puppet regime.

What could have been done with less cost and greater impact?

I do believe that after 9/11, the US had to confront Al Queda. But it was a mistake to turn this into an American led global “war against terrorism”. Instead, the US should have said “this is not our war” and sought out allies within the Muslim world to fight off their own terrorist subgroups. In other words, do what could be done, not what makes for a good sound bite on TV. But America was — and I think still is — hooked on its sound bite TV driven politics, and we got policies that sounded good at the time, but that were not very well thought out.

We left the resulting mess to the military to sort out, even though the mess was well beyond what military units are trained to do and can do,. BTW, just like Americans leave the police to sort out inner city problems caused by poverty, even though those problems are beyond what policing can sort out.

Tant pis for everyone who got killed.

BTW, you might be thinking, “what about Iraq?” The US had to go back into Iraq after ISIS reared its ugly head . but the US military had learned a lesson. The US military intervention was largely air based, using local proxies to grind out the battles on the ground (remember the kurds?). The startling thing is that while the kurds did everything that was asked of them by the US (which was also in their own interests to do), the Trump Administration dumped them.

The bottom line here — While the US appears to have learned a lesson from its adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq — to avoid heavy “boots on the ground” military interventions as a precursor to “nation building”. the US appears not to have learned how to manage local alliances that are needed to keep the peace. Ooops!

Cocktail Hour: The Hemingway DaiquiRi

Ken Burns and his crew have a penchant for doing documentaries that start conversations, and his latest on Hemingway is certainly doing that. Now that the 3 part series is out, we see Papa all over the media, and most of the time with content that “reveals” that he was a shit.

Ernest Hemingway - Wikipedia

Well, the secret is out, Hemingway was indeed a shit. But shit or not, the dude could write. And he made a mean cocktail.

His fav was a modified daiquiri, and Dave Lebovitz gives the recipe. Does one actually need to go beyond the simple syrup for grapefruit juice and maraschino liqueur? Of course not. The main flavor in a daiquiri comes from the lime/run combo. But, WTF! Go for a Hamingway, just not 13 of them the way he would.

And what about the writing?

Papa took his writing cue from Mark Twain, the great American iconoclast. Twain wrote the way people talked back in his day — magnified for effect. That was a tricky business, as it required a keen ear, as well as an understanding of why slang got attention. Hemingway did the same, and when he was good, he could get it right. When he was not so good, it was because he was too balled up in his own personal nonsense (like when he wrote about his infatuation with an Italian babe who was around 30 years younger then he was). That is why “Across the River and into the Trees” is such a mess.