Monday, December 10, 2018

Ghosting - the Modern Ghost Story

In the 20th century, a ghost story involved someone who died but continued to haunt the living.

In the 21st century, a ghost story involves someone who is still alive but suddenly disappears to those around them.

The former is about a community so close-knit that people continue to interact even after death. The latter is about a community so fragmented and isolated that people stop interacting even while they're still alive.


Saturday, December 1, 2018

Kimim ° has f Legal Counsel

From the Covfefe President comes the Kimim ° has f Legal Counsel.  Are you not entertained?  You should be; that degree symbol is not easy to make.


Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Creed II and Toxic Masculinity

I saw Creed II last night. The real villain of the film was a criminal mastermind named Toxic Masculinity - which repeatedly pushed two men into a televised arena so they could beat each other to a bloody pulp.

The prize wasn't money or a fancy belt; Creed and Drago were competing to "win" basic human needs like love, honor, self-respect, a sense of belonging, and life purpose. It's hard not to feel sorry for guys trapped within a society that would make such brutal conditions necessary in order to be accepted as men.

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Monday, November 26, 2018

Holiday Reminder: Prayer Does Nothing

I saw the top half circulating on Facebook and thought it needed updating, so I added the bottom half.  There are many ways to help the homeless this winter. Prayer isn't one of them.


Friday, November 16, 2018

Acosta in Disguise?

Yes, the preliminary legal outcome in the CNN lawsuit against the White House was great and all but... couldn't Acosta just return wearing different disguises to ask questions over and over?


Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Greater Republican Diversity in Congress

The Republicans are really stepping up their diversity with the incoming Congress.  The new and improved GOP has added many more styles of comb-over and receding hairlines on the white men they're sending to Washington!

Oh yeah, and shout out to Carol Miller (R WV-D3) - the Smurfette of incoming Republicans!


Saturday, November 10, 2018

"School of Hard Knocks" Starter Pack

With some collaborative input from esteemed colleagues on social media, I present to you the "School of Hard Knocks" Starter Pack...


Friday, October 26, 2018

Illegal Space Aliens in the Caravan?

Donald Trump has claimed that there could be "Middle Easterners" in the migrant caravan from Central America.  Trump said "there's no proof of anything, but there could very well be" when pressed by CNN reporter Jim Acosta for concrete evidence that people of Middle Eastern descent or that suspected terrorists were among the group.

By that same logic, there very well could be space aliens "mixed in" with the caravan.  There's no proof of anything, but there could very well be.



Friday, October 12, 2018

Flashback Friday: Obama and Joe the Plumber

On this day ten years ago, a man named Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher approached then-candidate Barack Obama while campaigning in his Holland, Ohio neighborhood.  This famous exchange instantly vaulted Wurzelbacher to become known as "Joe the Plumber"  and the ensuing sound bite from Obama's intent to "spread the wealth around" would be played endlessly in the closing weeks of the 2008 election.

Whatever one thinks of Obama's tax policy ideas or Wurzelbacher's concerns about them, this video footage is striking by today's standards.  Just watch it with the sound off.  Both men are calm and collected.  They are friendly, the crowd around them is listening closely, they nod in understanding and remain respectful.  While they may not agree on their politics, everyone involved remained civil and good-natured.

Ten years later, this kind of exchange seems almost impossible.  To imagine Donald Trump having a reasoned dialog with anyone - particularly one of his critics - and for the surrounding onlookers to remain so relaxed and attentive, is a far-fetched political fantasy.  This video is barely recognizable by today's standards of violently clashing demonstrators, enraged, screaming crowds with a bellowing proto-fascist at the podium.

What have we lost in the past decade?  Our underlying information sources are so disparate, our cultural identities so fractured, and our willingness to listen and assume the best of one another's intentions so abandoned.  Much of the time, we cannot so much as recognize where the other person is coming from - and have no time to do so as the knives of invective and partisan rancor are instantly brandished.

Is it possible to get back to a place where two people who don't agree on a subject as granular as progressive taxation policy can at least listen to one another and have a good faith exchange on the topic?


Sunday, September 30, 2018

Dear Bethel Missionary Baptist Church of Creswell, Oregon:

If you're going to send your moral entrepreneurs to knock on my front door and proselytize to me about the Bible, you simply must bring your 'A' game next time! The two young men you sent over were cutting and running in less than 10 minutes. I thought my eternal salvation deserved a bit more of their attention, especially given that they thought it wise to spend a Saturday evening knocking on my door to begin with.

Yes, I gave them a warm up act of reading a few very brief Bible passages and accepted that these claims may even be internally consistent... but then I pointed out that they failed to establish even the basic pretext of authority that the Bible would have for the metaphysical claims they were making about the universe, the epistemology of conscious experience, and the ability for non-physical beings of immense power to sometimes author specific books - but not films or computer software.

They presented an interesting theory about how they were the "real Jews" - which certainly surprised my upstairs neighbors who are of Jewish ancestry and watched with a mix of horror and amusement at this exchange. The two young men with Bibles in hand also seemed quite certain that The Book of Mormon was a "fraud" even though it contains claims of the same deficient evidentiary qualities as their own religious literature.

And this notion that I should want to go to Heaven even though they claimed my pets and non-believer friends won't be waiting for me is a really tough sell. If you're going to fabricate eternal promises, at least make them reasonably appealing to convey.

In any case... upon your Bible hucksters' next visit, please plan to stay for at least an hour because we have many basic logical and factual premises to establish before we can take on authority the claims you are making to be true. And if they could become less visibly agitated and defeated when their statements are challenged, that would be great!

You know where I live and I know your arguments better than you do.

Sincerely,
Danny Ledonne
atheist with respect to the ≈10,000 gods which humans have believed in at one time or another

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Andrew Yang Wants an Economy for Normal People

We have seen, and will continue to see, market forces that seek to maximize profit potential with the assumption that human flourishing will be an inevitable byproduct. There are clearly problems with this assumption already. But with increasing automation and AI, there is no good reason to believe this will be remotely true in the future.

Consider many (if not most) care-giving positions: home health care, teaching, child care and youth development, social workers, elderly care, animal welfare, environmental protection and cleanup. These and countless other occupations serve vital social functions yet have little economic incentive. People essentially commit to a life in poverty just to take on these careers - yet society would be nearly unbearable without them.

Add to this the ongoing de-skilling of various professions or outright automation of entire industries and we have a very bleak future for most humans ("normal people") in the mid-21st century and beyond. So long as a meaningful life and sustainable living are tied to economic structures which reward disruptive, concentrated monetary accumulation, most people will continue to see their quality of life diminish as a small oligarchy of tech wizards and financial elite consolidate most available resources.

"The War on Normal People" author and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang appears to be among the foremost leaders in the USA discussing this issue. He is certainly worth watching and listening to.

Related to this, Google's AlphaZero AI has become the undisputed champion of Chess. And unlike previous software programs like Stockfish which were programmed by humans, AlphaZero taught itself to play Chess and became better than every human player... in four hours. AlphaZero is actually more creative than most human chess players - another metric that didn't seem likely just a few years ago. Machines appear capable of learning something new more effectively and efficiently than humans could ever hope to.

The superiority of AI won't stop with games like Chess or Go, or even with automated cars and chat bots. Most of the jobs that most of us have will be performed more effectively by machines or with only minimal human oversight, and likely within most of our lifetimes.

If we don't de-couple our sense of purpose from work, if we don't separate how we obtain food, housing, and other essentials from performing profitable tasks, there won't be much of an economy left in which most humans can participate. The more one pays attention to the developments in AI and automation, the more clear it becomes that we are on a collision course with very grim prospects for most people unless economic and social structures are significantly redesigned with humans in mind.




Sunday, August 19, 2018

Omarosa Learned from the Master

When it comes to reality TV distractions and high wire publicity spectacle, Omarosa Manigault has spent over a decade learning from the master. And now the tables have turned, in seems, as the disciple is now publishing scandalous writing, audio, and promises video (source). Omarosa is schooling her former guru in the Art of the Deal-breaker.  "The best people," indeed!




Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Is Universal Healthcare So Impossible?

If I traveled back to the year 1776 and told the Founders that the USA could eventually 1) put robots on the surface of Mars or 2) guarantee every American healthcare coverage, which would the Founders guess happens first?




Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Bald Eagle is not Conservative

Many people on social media have images like this bald eagle superimposed with an American flag for their cover and/or profile photo. You have seen them before.



After surveying countless conversations and posts on social media sites, I've come to the conclusion that most of these same people do not support strong environmental regulations and many want to defund or dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency entirely - even as the American bald eagle's ongoing existence relies upon government regulation and enforcement of environmental protections.

The bald eagle is not conservative.  This bird shouldn't be a symbol for virulent nationalism or right wing identity politics.  It shouldn't be an icon for deregulatory political movements.

The bald eagle is, first and foremost, an apex predator whose habitat has been established long before the North American land mass was carved up according to European immigrants.  In the latter half of the 20th century, the bird nearly went extinct due to human causes: habitat loss, decline of prey populations, hunting, and chemical poisoning (source).

So to display the bald eagle as a political mascot while supporting an administration that moves to gut the Endangered Species Act is tragic, misguided, and desecrates the honor of all plants and animals, great and small.

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The cost of Trump's Endangered Species Act proposal

"The proposed change is the latest in a series of White House efforts to remove environmental regulations designed to protect vulnerable species and their habitats, as well as leave untouched some of America's most wild places.

Environmentalist groups have reacted with outrage, and the Center for Biological Diversity said "these proposals would slam a wrecking ball into the most crucial protections for our most endangered wildlife".

"If these regulations had been in place in the 1970s, the bald eagle and the grey whale would be extinct today."  (source)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Michael Cohen will be a Squealer

"President Donald Trump's longtime personal lawyer, who once said he would do anything to protect the president, told ABC News in an interview released Monday that he now puts "family and country first." In Michael Cohen's first interview since federal agents raided his home and hotel room as part of a probe into his personal business dealings, he was asked what he would do if prosecutors forced him to choose between protecting the president and protecting his family.

"My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will," Cohen was quoted as saying by ABC's George Stephanopoulos in an off-camera interview that was reported on "Good Morning America." ''I put family and country first." (source)




Saturday, June 23, 2018

The First Amendment and Modern Publishing

Are you going to get sued for saying that?

In this presentation, filmmaker and media activist Danny Ledonne outlines the history, meaning, and application of the First Amendment. Covering notable cases and current controversies, viewers will gain a better understanding of their legal liabilities and defenses when publishing media or exercising their freedom of speech.

This lecture was originally presented to the Conejos Writers Circle in La Jara, Colorado in June 2018.


Thursday, May 3, 2018

To Infinity War And Beyond

After giving this some thought and reading/watching a number of reviews, it is clear to me that "Infinity War" is a decisive win for Marvel and audiences alike.  This may be a unique franchise in film history - the likes of which we haven't seen before or perhaps since.

This film did well many of the things that "The Last Jedi" tried but failed to do.  "Infinity War" made many bold, risky, dramatically high stakes choices.  It leverages the long history of character development with its cast, doesn't bother to re-hash or summarize previous work and instead invests heavily in the development of the antagonist.  This worked incredibly well and gave us an experience that finally addressed the "superhero villain problem" of a truly formidable, competent and coherent antagonist.

There was a moment when "The Last Jedi" really could have gone differently and committed to similarly bold choices.  But it didn't.  It quickly reverted back to the tired formula of the previous seven films.  And that insulted the intelligence of an audience it had been preparing for more... and then delivered less.

But "Infinity War" did that.  Thanos enters the film by assuring us that the Avengers will fail.  It shows us mighty struggles within and between its impressive, fully-developed cast.  It delivers on its promise while keeping audiences guessing as to how it will play out.  And in doing so, this film shows us just how inferior a work like "Justice League" really is.  "Infinity War" cashes in on the cumulative narrative interest into which we have been investing since Iron Man a decade ago.

Personally, I would have loved another 10 minutes in this already epic film to add story lines for Ant Man and Hawkeye just for the sake of completion.  Aside from that, the film was a near-perfect juggling act of character, plot, setting, and theme.  It's hard to imagine a better version of this film - the likes of which we really haven't seen before.  And it perfectly sets up what will no doubt be a fully-realized conclusion with its sequel (currently slated for May 3, 2019).  For most of us, that date cannot come soon enough and one longs for the Eye of Agamotto to speed up that release date!




Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ronny Jackson is Candyman

"Turns out the "Candyman" can't.  Not with allegations of drinking on the job. Of wrecking a government vehicle while intoxicated. Of screaming at underlings. And of recklessly dishing out opioids.  White House presidential physician Dr. Ronny Jackson has lost his pursuit of a Senate confirmation to become the next secretary of veterans affairs. Making matters worse, he could also lose his job overseeing the health care of U.S. President Donald Trump."  (source)


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Getting Into A Quiet Place

"A Quiet Place" is a lean, efficient, and effective thriller! The film lacks sufficient world-building to fully establish its premise, but wastes no time delivering on the promises of its genre.

With virtually no spoken dialogue and minimal exposition, the film gives us a master class in sound design and visual storytelling. It illustrates what films frequently do best: evoking emotion through images and audio cues - right down to the different perceptions of the same sound effects as experienced by various characters (human and monstrous).

This will likely be remembered as the surprise hit of the spring - buried somewhere between the overwhelming success of "Black Panther" and the almost inevitable sweep of "Avengers: Infinity War." If you want to feel your own breath being taken away in measured gasps, this is the movie for you.


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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Bueller.... Bueller?

So I finally saw Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the first time.  People may be stunned to read this, but I was only 4 when it came out and all the subsequent cultural references led me to believe I had sat down to watch it long before... when I actually hadn't.

The film is essentially a crime caper comedy starring high schoolers - one in which they commit "the perfect crime" of playing hooky only to indulge in the bourgeoisie excesses of upscale dining, a baseball game, and a parade.  How unceasingly American!  By today's standards, it is all so charming and admirably innocent.

It leaves a few plot holes unresolved and sometimes has a lack of dramatic stakes for the characters, but does ultimately deliver several satisfying character arcs.  Ironically, Ferris himself coasts through his escapades with almost no conflict - while those around him must change and adapt to their setting.  It's Ferris' movie and the supporting cast is just living in it.

It's also remarkable to consider that the film was made for $5.8 million and grossed more than $70 million at the box office, let alone the ongoing ancillary markets for broadcast and home video sales.


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Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Religious Lottery

Imagine I told you that I believe I won the lottery.

That's a specific, provable claim.  There are a number of pieces of evidence that could do this: the winning lottery ticket, a news report from a verifiable source that I won the lottery, a screenshot of my bank account after depositing the check, photos of my lavish new purchases with my lottery winnings.  That's all good evidence.  But just telling you that I know I've won the lottery and my faith assures me of it is not enough evidence for you to believe my claim that I won the lottery.

Also notice what happens when I tell you why I believe I won the lottery.  If I told you:  "I believe I won the lottery because it cheers me up when I'm sad, it gives me hope for the future, my friends and family enjoy talking about what we will do with my lottery winnings, and anyway... I don't want to live in a world where I didn't win the lottery!"

What would you think about this?

You probably wouldn't believe that I won the lottery.  You might find it very strange that I believe I won the lottery in an apparent effort to make myself feel better.  You also might feel concerned or even somewhat sorry for me, wondering how I will adjust if I no longer engage in self-deception about winning the lottery.  Should you try to explain to me that there's no evidence that I won the lottery, that it's possible for me to win the lottery but it hasn't yet happened to me?  Should you respect my belief that I won the lottery even though it now seems clear I hold this believe not based on evidence but based on faith?

Now imagine that no one has ever won the lottery.

We tell ourselves, "we have people who play the lottery every day, so surely there must be some lottery winnings out there!  People have been playing this lottery for thousands of years.  They take their family to play the lottery every Sunday.  Billions of people play the lottery.  While no one has been able to produce evidence that they won the lottery, we have to have faith that they will."

At what point does a rational person, with more inquiry into the nature of this lottery, simply conclude it is very unlikely anyone will win this lottery... and that perhaps it may not be the best use of our time and attention to play the lottery without compelling evidence that it yields winners?

At what point does it no longer appear reasonable to play a lottery for which there is no evidence that anyone wins?  And with billions of people playing very different versions of this lottery, we don't know - without evidence - that any of them are more likely to produce a winning ticket than any other.

That's the dilemma of religious faith and the limits of its pragmatism.


Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Easter Eggs in Ready Player One

The Iron Giant, Freddy Krueger, Chun Li, Ryu, and Blanka, Gundam Wing, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Halo, Mecha Godzilla, Goro, The Shining, Madballs, Chucky and so many more pop culture references are crammed into Ready Player One!

Though enjoyable on the big screen, this just might be better watched on a home system with a pause button.  The end credits revealed any number of characters (like Sonic The Hedgehog) that I must have missed.  But it's hard not to be a gamer (or just a fan of 80's and 90's pop culture) and not enjoy the sheer amount of cameos and pop culture references scattered throughout this film - Easter eggs in a film about Easter eggs released on Easter weekend!


Monday, April 2, 2018

The Definition of Propaganda

Sinclair's Soldiers in Trump's War on Media - Anchors at Sinclair-owned local news station parrot a script pushing Trump talking points and “the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country.” (video by Deadspin)


This is literally everything conservatives claim they don't want in journalism:
1. Biased talking points written by management for direct delivery by employees
2. One-sided opinions which are forced upon journalists to recite on air
3. Politically-motivated, scripted statements designed to appear objective
4. Mass production of the same message without independent thought
Polls consistently reveal that Americans trust their local news sources more than national news. This effort by Sinclair Broadcast Group is a deliberate attempt to hijack this trust in order to achieve partisan political objectives.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Make Government Spending Larger Again!

"The U.S. Congress voted early on Friday to approve a $1.3-trillion government funding bill with large increases in military and non-defense spending, sending it to President Donald Trump, who was expected to sign it into law." (source)


Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Real Reason for Trump's Wall

Trump is considering what kind of expensive wall to build (paid for by America, not Mexico). Meanwhile, drug runners have perfected mile-long tunnel construction with vented sections in remote areas of the desert along the border. And ladders are always going to be cheaper and taller than walls.

There is nothing in Trump's proposal that will address the real issue of drug abuse that he pretends to care about.

But this isn't about stopping drugs or even preventing people from using them (many of the most addictive and lethal drugs are manufactured by highly profitable pharmaceutical companies in the USA). This is about constructing a physical safety blanket for older white Americans suffering from anxiety about a changing country, placating their innermost views on brown-skinned immigrants, and masked with a thin pretext of political calculus.


Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Bots for Trump

Today on Facebook, Donald J. Trump proclaimed his innocence after his own party concluded there's no evidence of collusion between his 2016 campaign and the Russian government. Right.

I stated that considerable evidence already exists that Trump has more than a decade of unethical and ongoing connections with the Russian government including money laundering, as well as communication between at least 73 associates of his 2016 campaign and Russian sources.

Within 5 minutes, someone replied to my comment with "Please show proof sir." Which I did. But who was it that wrote that? Someone named Chloe Harrison. Who is Chloe Harrison?

"Chloe Harrison" is a fake profile created 18 hours ago using two studio-style model photos of a young woman claiming to have lived in Houston and studied at Texas Tech University and University of Houston. There is no profile information or links, nor any profile activity prior to 18 hours ago. I have flagged this as a fake profile and anticipate it will soon be deleted (I've reported dozens of fake profiles that are no longer online).

So here's another point: the fact that when I write a comment critical of Donald Trump and the first response is a fake profile defending him... should tell you everything you need to know about how pervasive and ongoing the hijacking of social media by bots and foreign agents to disrupt and agitate American political discourse has become.


Monday, March 5, 2018

Dylann Roof and the Death Sentence

Buried beneath all the other breathless headlines, I just now read that "Dylann Roof has been sentenced to death for the June 2015 Charleston church slayings."

Stories like this actually remind me why I oppose capital punishment.

Roof was clearly lost and fell into all the wrong influences as an impressionable, isolated person. He deserves life imprisonment without parole to reflect on his choices and the opportunity to reconcile with his own moral failures.

Unfortunately, the government-sanctioned execution of Roof will stoke the flames of martyrdom in future angry young men just like him.  In their racist ideology, it will only validate their persecution complex.  Notoriety in death is often the outcome that rampage shooters desire.  In our pursuit of justice, we should not be so unwitting as to play into white power delusions about their imagined persecution.

By sentencing Dylann Roof to death, the US government will affirm that our response to killing people is... killing people. We should not want for further blood on our hands after the tragic shooting in Charleston. This is not what those slain church-goers who follow Christ would want nor what we as a society should accept as our moral standard.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Guns and Growing Up After Columbine

I grew up with guns, lots of them, hunting and sport shooting in rural Colorado. I understand the importance of responsible gun ownership - it's a serious responsibility to own a device that can rapidly discharge directed explosions of metal at living creatures.

I've also traveled the world - to countries with many fewer guns, to countries with more stringent gun laws, and to countries where the police look like soldiers outfitted for war. Increasingly that's how police in the USA look - and that's not a good sign given the countries I'm thinking about.

Unfortunately, years of looking at detailed gun fatality statistics - by state and by nation, as well as nearly two decades of thinking about school shootings, has really eroded my libertarian view on guns. There is simply too much evidence to suggest that the USA has a systemic, unique problem that has risen to the level of a health epidemic - one that we are told we must accept on Constitutional grounds. As Max Boot (not exactly a liberal) wrote, the Second Amendment is being turned into a suicide pact - and that's a genuine dilemma.

There are many important stories about how a gun has de-escalated a situation or saved someone's life. There are also many tragic stories about a gun discharging and killing a family member, or a domestic dispute that leaves a spouse dead from a gunshot, or a family member mistaken for an intruder and killed. Sadly, I can think of personal examples of each of those stories, as well.

There should remain a place for a responsible person to own firearms, especially for home protection. But guns in the public sphere has become an incredibly difficult topic. We don't allow guns in a bank or a courtroom but now some want more guns in schools. We don't allow guns on airplanes but some now want more people to conceal them on subways, streets, and public events. We don't want police officers to escalate to lethal force but we arm more of our citizens per capita - increasing the fear officers quite reasonably have for their life at every traffic stop. These are striking contradictions that a society with more guns than people have introduced - problems unique in the developed world.

It would appear that a generation of kids who were born after Columbine are no longer willing to accept as normal the possibility that their friends will be shot dead at school, at the movies, at a concert, at church, or at a nightclub. A generation ago, this wasn't part of growing up. Now it is. These teens should be listened to. We should support them. They are challenging us to build a better world together.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Trump's Disgraceful Conduct vs. Christian Evangelicals

Remember back when we had a president and first lady that you would actually want your kids to look up to, learn from, and aspire to be like?

You know, the couple that wasn't mired in conflicts of interest and nepotism, overtly racist statements and disgraceful social media posts, decades of financial ties with hostile foreign powers, and sex scandals ranging from covered-up affairs with porn stars and sexual harassment allegations to bragging about sexual assault and wanting to date their own daughter?

It might be time for Christian Evangelicals, who overwhelmingly support Donald Trump, to reconsider just how important they say "personal character" is in their leaders.  Or stop supporting lecherous buffoons.