Five reasons why Antifa is wrong

Antifa has blood on its hands

As much as I hate to give the appearance of supporting the historically racist Donald Trump, I believe that all conscientious supporters of civil rights have a duty to speak out against any group that supports violence as a means to change in America, even if that group appears to ally itself with a cause that I believe in.

Not only is Antifa, then, a threat to American values (of peaceful protest and free speech for all), but I believe they are partially responsible for the terrorist attack that killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville this week.


Put yourself in the position of an angry yahoo who's come to town to wave Confederate banners. You're already on edge, urged to fury by your sense of political isolation. Your leaders have already framed your struggle as 'us against them.' And then you see an Antifa zealot taking unprovoked physical action against yourself or a colleague.

You don't have to be a psychologist to imagine what might happen next.

Horrible as it is, it's not altogether surprising that such a rube (with the news of recent terrorist attacks fresh in his muddled brain) would "snap," jump into his car, and seek "payback" in a way that only an infuriated yahoo could "hit upon" in 21st-century America, namely deadly force with a moving vehicle.

Predictably enough, Antifa supporters are now claiming that this act of terrorism on the right is proof that proactive aggression is necessary on the left to achieve civil rights in America -- not to mention the numerous other less popular causes that have yet to be explicitly acknowledged by the diversely motivated contingent of activists that make up the group.

Meanwhile, Antifa remains blind to their own complicity in the Charlottesville bloodshed. They have no interest in talking to "the man in the mirror" about it.

What does Antifa propose instead in response to recent events:

nothing less than a series of Charlottesville repeats: a cycle of tit-for-tat violence in which Antifa can continue to justify its own existence based on the racist violence that they themselves have helped to create.


  1. It seeks non-democratic means to support democracy

  2. It ignores the legacy and achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement

  3. It creates a self-fulfilling prophecy by creating the violent atmosphere that it claims to be combating

  4. It gives safe harbor to diversely motivated anarchists who can justify their nihilism in the lofty name of civil rights

  5. It muddies the waters in terms of public opinion and support for equality by partially justifying those who claim that there are "many sides" responsible for the violence


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Time for science to chill out on the subject of anxiety

Medical Marijuana and Anxiety

Why no U.S. states consider anxiety to be an eligible condition for using pot

Everyone knows that the chief benefit of using marijuana is to "chill out," or in other words to become less anxious. So why does no U.S. state accept anxiety as a valid medical reason for using marijuana?

The reason, I believe, is that Western society views marijuana from a scientific mindset.

This mindset sets no store in anecdotal evidence, no matter how overwhelming. Let 99% of the world affirm the efficacy of marijuana for reducing stress, the scientific community will only hem and haw until they reduce all the relevant phenomena to numbers. I suspect they are particularly on their guard in the case of a drug like marijuana, where experiences of the user are so subjective as to implicitly threaten the very relevance of the objective method on which modern science pretends to rely. The scientific mind is more comfortable at analyzing the drug in the abstract than attempting to factor in the touchy-feely emotional states of the users, which are not so susceptible to quantification.

And so, anxiety sufferers can say with the poet Rimbaud: "Science is too slow for us," for it deprives the sufferer from an obvious cure merely because the relief obtained is subjective, and no fact-bound scientists would dare commit the faux pas of merely accepting a patient's statement for the fact that the drug works. If mere subjective feelings are to count, they must have a biological or neurological correlate that can be shown on charts, and until such correlation is found, the anxious are out of luck.

Of course, even scientists have limits to how ardently they can insist on "hard data": even they will fast-track the use of marijuana for conditions like cancer. Who, after all, wants to appear hardhearted in the face of the suffering of cancer victims? Yet this very exception proves the hypocrisy of the scientific position when it comes to choosing eligible conditions for using pot. After all, marijuana does not treat cancer per se, but rather lessens the anxiety of those who are forced to endure it. Thus the scientific OK of pot for cancer (and other catastrophic diseases) represents tacit scientific acknowledgement of the drug's efficacy in fighting anxiety, thereby underscoring the hypocrisy of the scientific community's failure to OK the drug for that very condition.
medical marijuana, pot

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Radically wrong reasoning in 'Free Cece', documentary by Jac Gares

Gilding the Leftist Lily

The folks in this documentary want to have it both ways:

CeCe was in solitary confinement; hence the system is evil.

But had she been housed with the prisoners at large, that would have been denounced as a terrible evil as well, and by the self-same people who declared that the solitary confinement was evil.

Why can't the left be happy with making a point? They have to gild the lily with outrageous and palpably false statements like:

"There was no chance of CeCe being treated fairly."

No chance? In a country that elected Barack Obama for two terms?

It's never good enough for the left that SOME whites are racists: whenever they argue, it's got to be every white (except, by implication, for themselves, of course) -- and when they don't want to name the names of the system's racists (because the white prosecutor in this case is too reasonable to make nasty labels stick and, indeed, one of the detectives himself is black) they resort to abstractions: "Oh, the 'system' is corrupt," thus conveniently shielding themselves from actual logical debate by alluding vaguely to some academic moral schema that apparently only the anointed (like Angela Davis) are aware of and can properly understand. Thus for the left, a knowing smirk takes the place of a logical rebuttal to one's critics.

Yes, there is a segment of white society that is racist -- but if we're to be honest, there is also an even larger segment of white society that would bend over backwards for blacks, not only to not be racist, but to not even APPEAR to be so. If there's any fear of unfair treatment from that latter group, it's that their worries about appearing racist will result in them giving preferential treatment to minority suspects over their Caucasian counterparts. Race baiters like Al Sharpton and Angela Davis know this and use the phenomena to stake out the most radical positions, knowing that this appearance-conscious white elite won't dare criticize for fear of losing their PC standing in the civil rights community.

Yes, America has a ways to go in fighting racism, but it is counterproductive and factually wrong to keep insisting that we as a society are always starting from square one. If anything, it takes race relations BACKWARDS as such an attitude is continually lambasting the most kindhearted of white Americans by confounding their colorblind goodness with the race-based hate crimes of Nazi skinheads, as if that's a sustainable way forward, to consider blacks as saints and whites as morally damaged goods, genetically speaking. That's a far cry from "the content of their character" criterion that Martin Luther King championed.

And by the way, "No justice, no peace" is an anti-democratic slogan that has no place in America. It's a way of implicitly threatening jurors to decide cases based on PC sensibilities rather than on the facts of a given case." It's like saying, "Give us the result we want or we'll wreck the town!" (as opposed to fighting back through the many peaceful means that a democratic society makes possible). Those who use the phrase may not know what they're saying, but they'll be guilty all the same the next time a non-PC verdict results in a town full of burned-out store fronts.


HYPERBOLE 1: Cece says she only took the second-degree manslaughter plea deal once she knew "they started to demonize me and just glorify him [the victim]"

NOTE: The documentary adduces absolutely zero evidence that anybody ever glorified the deceased.

It's interesting that the LG

HYPERBOLE 2: Kylar Broadus says, "If she had gone to trial, she would have been in jail for the rest of her life."

NOTE: This after attorney Izek said that the plea deal was offered because the jury pool was looking favorably on CeCe's case. See how these supporters change the facts of the case in an instant if it will support their arguments. One second, CeCe has a friendly jury ahead of her, the next, the same theoretical jury is going to punish her to the maximum extent of the law.

HYPERBOLE 3: screen graphic:

CeCe McDonald survived a fascist hate crime; now she's sentenced as she struggles to survive an ongoing state hate crime...

NOTE: This quote is attributed to:
Leslie Feinberg, a "Jewish, transgender lesbian revolutionary," and it represents all that is wrong with both the transgender and the lesbian community: their most vocal activists always "lead with hyperbole" so often directed at anonymous people or systems, thereby shielding them from the charges of slander that might otherwise so easily be brought and proved against them.

Here's the typical leftist strategy employed here:

If you can't win with logical argument, slander your enemy with the worst possible labels. Just unilaterally declare them fascists and perpetrators of a hate crime. If your opponents don't come across as such, no problem. Just direct your charges at the system as a whole. The system isn't a person, so there's no one to refute your slanderous outrage.


The stabbing victim was only 18. Although no attention was given to his upbringing, we can assume it was far from ideal. Can we have no sympathy at all for him, as a person who never had the chance to reform and might have eventually done so? CeCe sees him as nothing but a monster and seems to regret only that she was charged for his murder. Perhaps the original charges wouldn't have been murder had CeCe evinced a little sorrow for the incident, even while maintaining that she had had no other choice but to brandish a pair of scissors.


NONSENSE 1: First CeCe says that the Department of Corrections wouldn't let her wear "shorts or things that accentuate my body or my curves." Then, in the very next sentence, she says: "They hyper-sexualized me in their own manner."

NOTE: Here we see another radical leftist strategy of always assuming that your opponent has the worst possible motive for whatever they do, even when that ungenerous assumption breaks the law of Occam's Razor (a philosophical test of argumentative rigor of whose existence the left seem totally unaware). Surely, the DOC was doing CeCe a FAVOR to forbid her "accentuating" her feminized body in an all-male prison! But since that argument doesn't fit with CeCe's aggrieved narrative, they ignore such possibilities. The nonsense here becomes even more obvious when we remember the previously stated fears of CeCe's friends that a trans woman would not be safe in a men's prison. For it's not clear to me how her safety is to be enhanced by CeCe wearing shorts and accentuating her body. But logical consistency is not the strong suit of these shape-changing advocates for the radical left: instead, they just throw enough mud at their philosophical opponents in the cynical expectation that some of it will stick.

CeCe herself seems to be confused on these points. Her penchant for talking leads her into rapid-fire contradictions of her own talking points, a la Donald Trump and his tweeting, and so CeCe would be her own worst enemy, were anyone in the media other than myself paying close attention to what she actually says.

Despite her insinuations of unfairness, she goes on to admit herself that the DOC was adding rules so that she would "be safe," although she dismissively places those two words in air quotes. But then she comes up with a whole new argument against the clothing rules: it seems they were wrong because she was already in prison, and therefore no dress code would help her: if something was going to happen, it was going to happen. Right. That's like refusing to wear a life vest on an ocean-bound voyage, for the reason that you're in the big all-powerful ocean, so if you're going to drown, you're going to drown!

Having assigned this bizarre rationale to the dress code, she continues with yet a new charge, claiming that the DOC was trying to "take away" her "trans-ness" and turn her into a man.

It's interesting that the LGBTQ community and its supporters are so upset about the stereotypical treatment that they claim to receive at the hands of white straight men, yet they simultaneously insist on wearing precisely the stereotypical clothing that is associated with their gender of choice, considering the denial of that option a denial of their humanity. Indeed, for all its claims to edginess, the very concept of "trans" is rooted in an embrace of stereotypes.

CeCe, apparently with regard to the Department of Corrections: "I feel like they try to make you hate yourself as someone who's not conforming."

NOTE: Zero evidence is produced in the documentary to support this statement. More of the "pile-it-on" strategy of the left.


There wasn't a day when I didn't catch something from someone about being a black trans woman.

NOTE: This man (sorry, woman) is patently WHITE. If you don't believe your own two eyes (blinded by the 50-cent words of leftist academicians), just ask 23andme. But the left in America has ironically embraced the "one drop" mentality of colonial America in assigning the black/white label, the better to grow their "black" numbers while perpetuating an us/them mentality that indefinitely puts off racial reconciliation. For they don't want racial equality, since it would put race baiters like Al Sharpton and Angela Davis out of business (both of whom, by the way, would be called "white" as well in a sane world, assuming that a sane world would ever divide us into two such increasingly meaningless and counterproductive categories in the first place).


It is our duty to fight!
--trans woman "of color" leading group chant

NOTE: So much for the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. As if to leave no doubt that the protestors need not rely on the measly power of love, the chant leader follows up with the line: "It is our duty to win!" and "If you've got scissors in your bag, take them out!" Sieg heil anyone?


We can't talk about any type of liberation unless we talk about the racism in the LGBTQ community. --CeCe

NOTE: A nice example of leftists eating their own. Racism in the LGBTQ community? And this after CeCe got her freedom back thanks to the colorblind outpouring of that very community. It's breathtaking ingratitude that only makes sense according to the abstract and evermore rarefied criteria of Angela Davis, whose bleak, cynical and pessimistic vision of the moral universe (full of abstract references to systems and structures) manages to find prejudice in absolutely everyone who disagrees with her (and, indeed, in many who don't!) A convenient viewpoint, that, to deny the ability of your opponents to even have an educated opinion on the subject at hand. It cuts down on the pesky need to support your theory against actual logical rebuttals.

So the video ends with even CeCe's staunchest biracial supporters being branded as racists and sexists, without one shred of evidence being offered on behalf of this strange last-minute broadside.

Does the rational world need any more proof that CeCe's ad hoc leftist radicalism is not concerned with ending racism at all, but rather with sustaining the moral clout with which race baiters like Angela Davis and Al Sharpton can continue to bludgeon the politically incorrect, no matter how well-meaning those non-PC heretics may appear to be from any merely logical point of view?


The documentary makes at least two points convincingly.

1) The interview footage and testimony suggests that the detectives never considered the event from the point of view of a possible hate crime, in which case, the protests clearly helped in this regard. (That said, the documentary's many other deficiencies can't help but make the skeptical wonder if the producers merely withheld information and footage that would have counteracted this impression of an oversight on the part of the detectives.)

2) CeCe's attack on tourist traffic to Alcatraz is compelling, although both she and Laverne Cox gild the lily by suggesting that prisons hold (and have held) nothing but oppressed minorities waiting for a chance, rather than murderers and torturers, whose victims themselves were all the colors of the skin-pigment rainbow. Again, we see that anti-philosophical tendency to ignore all truths that fail to support the documentary's radical narrative. According to this anti-philosophical view of the world, a mere statistical preponderance of minorities in prisons is itself prima facie evidence of racism. That conclusion is, of course, palpably false, but it doesn't stop Angela Davis from using it as a premise for insisting that prisons are an invention of "the man" (that genocidal anbi-black, colonial, misogynist and ablist monster, according to Eric Stanley) to keep minorities down.

Cece is also taking for granted that she can read the hearts of everyone visiting Alcatraz. She assumes that it's all about flippancy and racism. She may be a mind reader, but if so, she should give the audience her credentials before grouping all prison visitors into one disreputable category. It's an historic prison and a more generous mind could envision a variety of reasons for visiting it, and, in fact, prison reformers would be woefully negligent NOT to visit such a prison if they're hoping to criticize prison systems and prison life advisedly.

Again we see the radical left tendency to immediately draw the most damning explanation possible for behavior that you condemn.

One problem with such over-the-top radicalism is that it leaves us with no language to use when we encounter true purposeful evil in the world of punishment, like the practice of cutting off the hands of robbers in certain Middle Eastern locations or the Nazi practice of killing homosexuals. For all its shortcomings, our society is at least attempting to base its prosecutions on "the rule of law", and before we discard that system, let's remember how evil the many alternatives have proven to be in practice. It was in response to that evil that the rule of law was adopted in the first place (see English history, Angela), and not thanks to some diabolical conscious scheme to marginalize minorities.
cece, free, free cece, jac gares, jacque gares media,

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Proposed: that ugliness is in the eyes (and nose) of the beholder

The Theory of Aesthetic Relativity

I just had a terrible thought: What if beauty and ugliness were truly relative, in the Einsteinian sense that there is no one fixed standard of beauty in the universe. Instead, beauty can be definitively defined only in a given reference frame (read "by a specific species"). In other words, the 'slave's offal' of which Hamlet speaks could look and smell like daisies, provided only that the sensing mechanism of a given species was so constructed as to make it appear so.

Before you pooh-pooh the idea, you must ask yourself: What is the ontological nature of "ugliness." Indeed, is there an ontological nature of such a quality? Surely a wallowing pig does not consider mud to be ugly; surely a lumbering bullock is not repelled by the occasional cow paddy. Why not? Because they have not been either physiologically or psychologically equipped to make that judgment.

Take me, for instance. I can't imagine a critter any more disgusting than a cockroach -- indeed, I'm wincing even as I type this -- but speaking philosophically, we must ask ourselves: is the roach's (to us) prima facie ugliness a case of simple (relative) ugliness, or is it Ugliness writ large: i.e., does the entomological eyesore possess some quality or qualities that inherently stamp it as ugly for all time, regardless of the psychological or physiological makeup of the intelligent being that claps eyes on it? Or can we not imagine some self-reflecting species who possess a different or expanded set of sense organs, such that the cockroach strikes them as (Lord help us...) cute???

Well, go ahead: talk amongst yourselves! (Yes, this WILL be on the test, folks!) Permalink

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In response to "California Farmers Backed Trump, but Now Fear Losing Field Workers" by Caitlin Dickerson, in the February 9, 2017 edition of The New York Times.

Hypocritical Farmers and the Immigration Debate

Dear Caitlin,

I just had a few comments to share regarding your article entitled "Farmers Back Trump." It points out (albeit only implicitly) a seldom recognized truth of the immigration debate: that is, that there is plenty of blame to go around, beyond the usual (admittedly sometimes justified) carping at the Oval Office and Congress.

These farm owners that you mention have knowingly profited from using illegal labor for all these years. If anyone should be punished, it is they, not their employees. Of course the owners' costs will skyrocket if they have to obey the law: that's pretty much how it is in any business. I myself am a freelancer. If I could flaunt the laws that are inconvenient to me, I could make much greater profits, on which I would eventually become dependent.

If these farm owners hadn't "caved" to convenience long ago by knowingly hiring illegal immigrants, and thereby setting a precedent for violating the law in this area, then the deficiencies of the U.S. immigration policy would have become clear to everyone decades ago (thanks to much higher prices for American produce) and perhaps a solution to the migrant worker immigration status would have been cobbled together in Washington out of necessity and self-interest.

Instead, we've all learned to wink at (or rather entirely ignore) illegal hiring practices of the self-serving farm owners (and other employers) while hypocritically blaming U.S. immigration policy for the plight of the undocumented shadow workforce that those hiring practices have created.

Personally, I'm in favor of "recognizing the facts on the ground" in this immigration debate and acting accordingly (recognizing that these people are now a crucial part of the economy and that they need to be declared legal through a one-time act of Congress). But if we're going to pardon these illegal immigrants for defying U.S. law, I believe it would be a good symbolic gesture to simultaneously pardon the many farm, shop and factory owners who have aided and abetted them in becoming the illegal shadow workforce that they have become today. For, had these owners originally taken the law into account during their hiring practices, we would not now have this warped marketplace that relies on a technically illegal workforce to maintain its low-priced equilibrium.

Yes, food prices would have been higher if unscrupulous employers hadn't started knowingly hiring undocumented workers in the first place, but that fact alone would have given Congress and the president incentive to grant the immigration status changes that were economically called for by that outcome. Instead, these same farm owners and producers who have been ignoring U.S. law for decades now disclaim all responsibility for the "shadow workforce" that they themselves have helped create, conveniently passing the blame on to Washington, D.C., as if it were the one and only villain of the piece.
caitlin dickerson, new york times, california farmers backed trump, immigration, migrant workers, farms

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"Shooting Musk Ox: murder, mischief or merriment?" You be the judge!

Good Conscience Hunting

Good afternoon, I'm Babe Wildman Ph.D., America's first philosophically scrupulous hunter, chasing wild game across the American hinterland while inwardly reflecting on my ontological justification for doing so. That's right, this is a new kind of hunting show where, instead of blasting our prey with amoral abandon, a la the gun-toting hayseed, we track down our quarry in a spirit of critical self-reflection, silently catechizing our better natures about the propriety of our acts, even as we sneak silently through the undergrowth, training our red pinpoint laser sights on the cute button nose of yet another hapless Bambi.

We may kill as many defenseless critters as our redneck counterparts, but there are no riotous high-fives after our conquests, no self-congratulatory shoulder clapping, no trips to the local beer hall with a half-dozen cronies riding dangerously in the bed of our gas-guzzling and ridiculously oversized pickup truck, no posing beside our quarry with a shameless grin on our unnecessarily camouflaged faces while making the victory sign over our victim's corporeal husk with our gun-free hand -- and no phony but effusive praising of our local hunting guides, as if we couldn't have done it without them (which, when we stop to think about it, we really could have, of course, while saving money into the bargain!) : instead, our crew of Ivy League-educated game hunters repair to an insect-proof gazebo on my 25-acre estate near Tucson where we philosophically debate the morality of our latest socially sanctioned kills, not simply mouthing off ex cathedra a la the madding crowd, but actually justifying a series of sober but ad hoc insights (whether pro, con or agnostic) with specific verifiable references to the great philosophical authorities our time.

So put your blaze orange thinking caps on because it's time to go... Good conscience hunting!!!

Today's episode: "Shooting Musk Ox: murder, mischief or merriment?" You be the judge!
hunting, morality

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Author goes down on bended kneed, pleading with protesters to stop kneeling during the national anthem

Pleading on Bended Knee (for another kind of protest)

Trump has ruined professional sports for me. Because I'm sure that all national sports games are soon going to commence with anywhere from a handful to a majority of players "kneeling" during the national anthem in protest of the Donald.

Which I fully understand, believe me! And I think all right-thinking Americans should seriously consider visiting the Kremlin-- er, I mean the White House-- to protest the installment of our new Loudmouth-in-Chief.

But this specific method of protest is problematic for me, because when I watch (and/or attend) such games, I do so to get away from politics and related worries, not to be starkly reminded of them by pregame agitprop. Forgive me, but I don't actually care about the political leanings of my goalies or the party affiliations of my catchers and pitchers. I just want them to play ball! Besides, when I stand for the anthem, I consider myself to be affirming the positive aspirations referred to in the lyrics, and not to be silently signing off on the current political status quo. For this reason, I disapprove of such kneeling because it seems to me to be making the following statement: "Trump is president so screw America and its f*** aspirations."

This is the same mistake that anti-war protestors made in the '60s. They burned the American flag and derided America when they should have been positioning themselves as the true defenders of the flag and the nation, the defenders of our best aspirations. They may have ticked off their adversaries by flag burning but they certainly didn't win any converts by those stunts. Instead, they widened the political divide.

I just hope that I can still attend classical music concerts without encountering an off-putting preshow reminder of current affairs -- tho' I wouldn't be surprised if half the orchestra soon begins the show by tuning their oboes and flutes on bended knee!

ANNOUNCER: And now Seija Ozawa will direct the National Symphony Orchestra in the performance of Beethoven's 7th. Seija Ozawa has announced that he will be directing tonight on bended knee in protest of the Donald Trump Presidency. Unfortunately, Mr. Ozawa appears to be running late this evening -- Oh, no, there he is, kneeling below the podium!


PS By the way, just FYI, I've typed this entire post on bended knee myself -- which, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em!
trump, protest, knee, bend, national anthem

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Brian raises moral questions about Wikileaks data and its use by scientists in August 10, 2015 article by Bruce Bowers: 'Decision Tree for soldiers could reduce civilian deaths'.

Wikileaks endangers soldiers

To me, the take-home message from this article concerns the faultiness of the radical premise behind Wikileaks, namely that public disclosure of official secrets is always a good thing. That's just plain wrong. Did the German scientists ever stop to wonder why this data was classified in the first place? It was probably because any countermeasures that were instituted as a result of these findings would be ineffective if the terrorists were aware of the rationale behind their adoption. (Indeed, now that the data is "out there," we can expect to see more terrorists joining carpools.)
science news misses the point

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For What It's Worth

Four ways to improve YouTube

I would like to make four constructive suggestions to Google regarding YouTube (although, honestly speaking, I feel like this is a waste of time, given the size of the Google corporation and the consequent improbability that this message will find its way to the right person, someone with both the ability and the desire to act on the ideas that it contains).

1) You really ought to publish more information about your video publishers. I keep seeing a lot of videos that appear to have been just plain stolen from major video producers like National Geographic and the History Channel. But I can't investigate because the publisher's name is always something short and stupid like "Bells Cows 27," the kind of name that seems to have been intentionally chosen to be as meaningless as possible. Clicking on "about" tells me nothing. Nor can I find any meaningful information when I search such names on the Web, making them seem very shady indeed. If Google wants to stop pirate re-publishers, it needs to make its YouTube site much more transparent on the question of WHO is publishing WHAT and WHY. It's often completely unclear what connection the YouTube publisher has to the video that they are publishing. It looks like a lot of people are just opening up YouTube sites right and left under ambiguous names with the intention of making ad money off of other people's stuff.

2) Google should require full, real names before people can post comments about videos. I am seeing a lot of garbage comments -- some that seem to deliberately have nothing to do with the videos at all. I just saw a comment for a video about aircraft carriers: It said something like: "I'm looking for a girl named Debbie, or maybe Donna. She lived in the Philadelphia area in 1974." Then other comments are just plain hate speech. People would think twice about publishing such nonsense if real names were required. If this free-for-all commenting keeps up, the whole comment field is going to be routinely ignored by video publishers "in the know." The comment field is rapidly becoming nothing more than a dumping ground for jerks and haters.

3) Get rid of the "thumbs down" icon. It just enables haters. If people don't like a video, they won't watch it. That's the real thumbs down. As it stands, the "thumbs down" icon is just a superfluous referendum on the popularity of the video publisher, not a useful referendum on the quality of the video itself. Controversial organizations always get a lot of "thumbs down" votes under this system, but that tells us nothing about the quality of the videos that they're publishing: it just tells us that (surprise, surprise) the controversial organizations are, in fact, controversial. (There need no ghost come from the grave to tell us that!)

4) STOP publishing the "F" word (and other obscene words) in closed captions for children's cartoons and videos by family-friendly organizations (no matter what your algorithms think that they "hear"). I have found the "F" word incorrectly rendered in the auto-generated captions for over a dozen children's video cartoons!!! I have found the "F" word (and similarly foul language) incorrectly captioned in family-friendly videos by Habitat for Humanity, Lions Clubs International, American Red Cross, the ASPCA, and the United Way, to name a few!!! (If you want the screenshots, I have them. Just ask!)

Deaf children and their parents have just as much right to protection from bad language as do their hearing counterparts. I've contacted all of these organizations to point out these problems. None of them had any idea, until my phone call, that Google was even allowing dirty words to be auto-captioned in family-friendly videos. Pardon me, but this seems to be an irresponsible oversight on the part of your algorithm-writing staff! Even as we speak, thousands of cartoons are incorrectly appearing with the "F" word in their auto-generated closed captions. The only "up" side to this problem is the fact that few deaf children probably bother to read such captions since they are usually gibberish (as Google's algorithms can't adequately distinguish between vocals, sound effects, soundtrack, and background noise).

For what it was worth....

Brian Ballard Quass from Basye, Virginia, USA
youtube, suggestions, google

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Brian's response to 'Rendezvous with Pluto" by Christopher Crockett, appearing June 12, 2015, in Science News magazine.

Alien Pen Pals

Introducing a fun new way to ensure interstellar harmony

I think all of humankind's interstellar emissaries should carry an instruction manual among their mementos in case the aliens that we reach decide they'd like to visit earth. Both history and sci-fi movies suggest that such a visit could result in war unless both sides had previously reached some basic understandings about the general intentions of the other. Even then, there would be plenty of wiggle room for sabotage and perfidy on both sides unless both aliens and humans were truly "on the same page" before meeting each other "in person," so to speak. The suggested manual might read something like this:

"While we'd love to see you guys in person, we earthlings suggest that our two species first spend a few years corresponding remotely prior to arranging our first bricks-and-mortar confab. For,although we trust that your own species has long since moved beyond the childish emotions of envy, mistrust, cynicism, and greed, we homo sapiens remain, alas, a trifle fettered by these pathological bugaboos, a fact that you have no doubt already gleaned by Googling the history of 20th-century Earth. So, just to be on the safe side, suppose we tentatively pencil in our first tete-a-tete for 3 Earth years from today? Meanwhile, I suggest that we get acquainted in the time-honored manner of curious (but prudent) pen pals -- from a distance, that is --in the hopes that the information that we share in doing so will not only prove interesting to our respective correspondents but will convince them of our good intentions, one toward the other.

So, for starters, I'll begin:

Hello. My name is Brian. I am (naturally enough) a NASA employee. (Hello?They wouldn't just let ANYBODY write this "message to alien species,"now, would they?) I live in the state of Virginia, in the country of the United States, in the continent known as North America, in the western hemisphere. My favorite sport is baseball and my favorite team is the New York Mets. In my spare time, I read articles in a magazine called"Science News", often "chiming in" with admittedly fascinating comments,which are usually ignored, however, perhaps because their profound import is often obscured by a sort of trenchant repartee on my part, a lighthearted style that academia is feign to dismiss as flippancy, thus abnegating their scientific responsibility to pick up the proffered gauntlet of my admittedly sometimes quite devastating implications, be they philosophical, scientific, or even, as in this case, a trifle sociological.

Let's see, what else? Oh, yes, and my favorite color is blue.

Okay. YOUR turn!"
pluto, christopher crockett, science news, rendezvous with pluto, mementos, aliens

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Brian responds to 'Science may get sidelined in artificial turf debate' in Science News, April 21, 2015, by Beth Mole

Affirmative Action Pronouns

I thought Science News editors had gotten rid of the "affirmative action" pronouns, but this article starts out by talking about "our child" as if she were a SHE. As I keep reminding Science News, the whole reason for not using the pronoun HE in the first place was that the '70s feminists disagreed with the notion that HE could refer to "both males and females." If we grant that long-accepted supposition, then I see no reason now why I should be forced to accept the notion that SHE can refer to "both males and females."

Suggested rewrite:

"Your child's playground might be teeming with toxic chemicals. The city park could expose them (or "him or her") to noxious dust."

It may not "read" quite as easily, but it's more accurate and less charged with the suggestion of a misplaced progressive or feminist agenda on the part of the author.
artificial turf, pronouns, beth mole, science news

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Brian's response to two articles in the Los Angeles Times of Saturday, May 2, 2015

No Justice, No Stupid Slogans

Your Saturday newspaper offered at least two clues concerning the reasons for the recent violence in Baltimore.

First, in the page one article entitled "Baltimore officers are charged in man's death", Maryland state attorney Marilyn Mosby is quoted as telling protestors: "I heard your call for 'no justice, no peace'," but there's no sign that Ms. Mosby (nor the average American, for that matter) realizes that it is that very slogan that justified the Baltimore violence in the first place. After all, if one truly believes in that anarchist mantra, then one has no option but to behave disruptively after a perceived injustice occurs. For the mantra "no justice, no peace" is basically a threat: it says that, "If I don't get my way, I'm going to raise hell." But this is a democracy: the answer to a perceived injustice should be political activism, not raising hell. Besides, if inner-city young people can follow that belligerent and off-putting mantra, "no justice, no peace," then so can their opponents, who might have a different definition of justice in any particular case and believe in it just as sincerely as they.

Another example of the way that society tolerates violence is found in the photograph on page B1. It's a picture of two young Latinos raising fists in the air, and it is incorrectly captioned "Making Their Voices Heard." May I remind the caption writer that those are fists that the kids are raising, not megaphones? The kids are sending a threat, not a call to parley. Such protests (protest-lite: attempting to enrage a foe that you know full well is not interested in hurting you in the first place) are just another manifestation of the "no justice, no peace" mindset. It is a mindset which threatens the opposition rather than agreeing to work with it. It is a mindset that all but guarantees that society will be constantly at war, since people of goodwill often disagree on their definition of the word "justice." And it is therefore a mindset that has no place in a democracy and should not be encouraged, either by ingratiating state's attorneys or by politically correct newspaper caption writers.
no justice, no peace, los angeles times, baltimore, marilyn mosby, may day, latinos, fists in the air

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Brian's response to Unbiased Computer Confirms Media Bias by Rachel Ehrenberg in Science News, April 17, 2015.

Unbiased Bias

Interesting and well-written article. But it generates three concerns/observations for me:

1) The term "unbiased computer" can be dangerous in the wrong hands. Google will tell you that its search engine algorithms are unbiased -- and, indeed, Google will imply that this is so BECAUSE the algorithms are computerized -- but the algorithms are always written by human beings, and if a philosopher were invited in on the process of writing those algorithms, they could point out numerous debatable assumptions (or biases) that are inherent in their formulation (as in Google's case, the number of "backlinks" is assumed to be an indicator of site worthiness -- whereas truly original and groundbreaking work will often be incomprehensible at first sight to the hoi polloi, hence garner few if any backlinks without publicity of some kind, and so will languish under a search algorithm that rewards pre-established, "in-your-face" utility and worth).

Many I.T. advocates are, in my opinion, dangerously wrong about this. I recently saw Walter Isaacson describe Google search in effusive terms (at the Computer History Museum), praising the way it brings quality to the top. But a close (indeed, even a superficial) look at many Google search results shows that utility and influence (established names, sites ending in .edu) are the way to the top of Google's index -- not novelty and insight. Indeed, I often find whole pages of Google search results that all lead to the exact same (admittedly) uber-useful text or images, copied almost verbatim from website to website. In such cases, Google isn't bringing quality to the "fore"; they're merely facilitating access to the cut-and-paste info that the average surfer is looking for. There's no doubt a role for such a search engine, but we shouldn't delude ourselves into thinking that Google's one-trick-pony algorithms are the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to online search.

2) While there are no doubt insights to be gained from the software coding in question, it could also become just another tool to drive liberals and conservatives apart, by better identifying the individual Web surfer's political leanings and ensuring that those surfers are never pestered by links to material that is at odds with their existing mind set.

3) In some ways, as the article itself admits, this is just another one of those cases where science is finally catching up to common sense. Whether you read the D.C. "Afro-American" or the "Washington Times", you'll be hard-pressed to find outright lies or completely unconvincing logic in either of them. That's not where the difference lies. The difference between liberals, conservatives, and others lies in their answer to the following question: "What stories -- and incidents within those stories -- are worthy both of coverage and analysis in the first place?" The two above-mentioned publications provide radically different answers to that question, and so the public sees no overall Hegelian synthesis arising from the two positions -- but rather two sets of "preachers" preaching to the almost thoroughly segregated converted.
computer bias, media bias, rachel ehrenberg, science news

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Brian's response to When you're happy and you show it, dogs know it by Susan Milius, Science News, February 12, 2015

Bombshell! Dogs understand human faces!

It's always hilarious to me when I see "bombshells" like this one spread all over the Internet. It always makes Science look like "the slow kid in the class" who finally learns what everyone else knew almost from birth.* Unfortunately, the slowness of science is not really funny, though, because while Science was trying to figure this stuff out, animals have been misused under the (ahem) "dogmatically" agnostic assumption that they have no "real" similarities to human beings (such as feelings).

"Bombshells" like this (that -- surprise! -- dogs know what smiles mean) just remind us that science is not the only way to look at the world -- and sometimes it's far from the best way. (Remember Nazi Germany?)

But then Science itself was violating some of its own premises when it doubted such canine capabilities in the first place: according to the principle of Occam's Razor, scientists should have erred all along on the side of assuming that dogs probably had similarities to human beings when it came to facial recognition. Viewed in this way, it's hardly "scientific" to assume (as Science has done for years past) that canine actions that are so strikingly similar to ours are yet somehow completely different in origin, nature, motivation, and meaning.

*It's instructive that the laypeople who spread these stories through the Internet almost always fail to catch the irony of the fact that they are blazoning self-evident truths as "bombshells". "Dogs can understand human faces"? Really? The fact that web page editors don't laugh that naive question right off the front page proves how we're all influenced and cowed by Science's own unscientific agnostic bias on such matters. The big story here (if there is one) is the tardiness of science's "gotcha" moment, not the fact that dogs just might have similarities to human beings in some ways.

PS Dear Science News, please stop making long-time podcast subscribers like myself pay twice for your articles -- once for the podcast mag, and once to subscribe to this site. If, as you claim, Amazon won't give you podcast subscription lists, you're a big, important organization now, so believe in yourselves, doggone it! Try giving Jeff Bezos a simple phone call and see what you guys can work out in this connection. (What's Jeff gonna do, bite your heads off? I don't think so.)

For further study

Brian has single-handedly exposed the unscientific basis of Science's approach to animal behavior (for which, bravo, old boy: well done, you!). But if dogmatic anti-anthropomorphism is, indeed, not justified by the principle of Occam's Razor, how can we explain Science's emphatic insistence on enshrining such a prejudice in its modus operandi? (Hint: Re-read Genesis -- especially that bit about Man having dominion over the fish of the sea and whatnot.)

Just for Fun: Logic Puzzle

After reading the above article by Susan Milius, the dog lovers at the Clifton Canine Club (one of whom was Mr. Barnes) spent their March meeting discussing various amusing canine anecdotes which they felt served to prove the validity of the article's point: namely that dogs can, indeed, "read" human faces. Using just the clues provided below, determine the name of each dog and its owner (Mrs. White owns Sparky), the subject of their shared anecdote (one involved a wasp nest), the primary emotion that the dog could "read" (one was disappointment), as well as the species to which each dog belonged (one was a German shepherd).

1) The chihuahua that understood jealousy was not the dog that ate an entire garbage bin of trash, which was not the dog that was owned by Mr. Merriwether.

2) The story about the dog in the sailboat was not told by Mr. Wentworth, whose dog was neither the beagle, the dog that understood fear, nor the dog named Tubby.

3) Cottonball's owner was a man, as was the owner of the Shih-tzu that wrecked the outdoor manger scene prior to seeing (and apparently understanding) the meaning of its owner's angry face.

4) The dog that understood Mr. Allen's "lassitude" was not the one that boarded a streetcar on its own and got as far as Derby before being kicked out, which was neither the chihuahua nor the cocker spaniel -- nor even the bulldog owned by Mr. Flank.

5) The five dogs were: Molly-poo, the dog owned by Mr. Wentworth, the sheepdog that understood happiness, the dog involved in the Easter egg fiasco, and the beagle that was thought to sympathize with its female owner's "wanderlust."

dogs, faces, susan milus, faces, science, susan milius

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Technology + Capitalism = Oligarchy

The Religion of Efficiency

It's amazing how many middle managers these days are working as hard as they can to put themselves (and folks like themselves) out of a job. But that's the natural result when capitalism teams up with technology absent any overarching humanistic, religious or spiritual values. For it's becoming clear (to me, at any rate, and this by dint of personal workplace experience) that left to themselves, the combination of capitalism and technology leads to oligarchy, insofar as it elevates "efficiency" to the highest of all values. Hence job cutting is seen as a virtue, by head hunters who refuse to acknowledge the collective negative impact of their marvelous "efficiency."

What's amazing to me is how willingly the masses follow the pied piper of technology to economic malaise and job loss. I'm not saying, mind, that I know the right alternative to the path that we're on -- merely that I recognize, at least, that a new path is needed, while most people still fail to see the direct connection between all these technological "next big things" and job loss.

Left unchecked, however, this path is not sustainable, for the public's toleration for skewed wealth distribution is dwindling in proportion as the opportunities for each individual's personal economic progress wanes.

For Further Study

Read "Throwing Stones at the Google Bus" by Douglas Rushkoff. Permalink

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Brian's letter to a friend regarding certain ongoing trials and tribulations, the precise nature of which are beyond the scope of this article

I Wish I Were a Practicing Hindu

I wish I were a practicing Hindu (that is what I always want to beeeee, for If I were a practicing Hindu, the next life would be better off for meeee) .

Then I could take courage in my current life situation by knowing that I'm merely storing up learning experiences that will stand me in good stead in my next life.

For instance:

In my next life, I would realize that no one should ever consider themselves safely employed until they have at least a six-month nest-egg stored up and have several alternate positions in mind that they could likely move to relatively quickly if push came to shove. I now believe that anyone who's not in such a position should not consider themselves safely employed in this life.

I say this because it's quite maddening to realize how little bargaining power an average employee has when they're mistreated. I mean, what are you going to do? The employer holds almost every single card -- although they are perhaps reluctant to play some of those cards since high employee turnover rates do have their costs to the company. You're walking on extra-jagged egg shells (more like shards of glass) whenever you try to complain. You have to bend over backwards with diplomacy while the other side is free to snap at you like a raging mastiff.

Sometimes I'd almost prefer to be snapped at, because there's another corporate technique that is even more maddening -- from the point of view of a disgruntled employee:

Often the company rep to whom one complains will respond with serene indifference, like a dreaming Buddha. Meanwhile, the employee is quite understandably furious -- but doing everything they can to conceal the fact. So all the company guy has to do is remain serene and say very little, or even nothing. They can then use the company's own unreasonableness to their own advantage by letting the employee rant while they sit their like Gandhi. In such cases, the plaintiff, being simultaneously nervous and upset, often appears to be the unreasonable one, especially when their angst is viewed against the seemingly Godlike exterior of their interlocutor. Hence the more outrageous the company behavior is that is at issue (and the angrier therefore the employee), the easier it is for the company to make it appear that it's the employee who is at fault -- merely by letting said disgruntled wretch hang themselves with their own understandably outraged petard.

(assuming that a petard is, indeed, capable of suffering such a high level of discomfiture) Permalink

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Open letter to Ayad Akhtar and Michael Riedel, on the subject of ethnic condescension

Michael Riedel and Ethnic Condescension

Dear Ayad:

Forgive me for writing again so soon, but your recent interview on Theater Talk raised some fascinating issues on which I feel that I (as a philosophy major and a still-struggling 55-year-old writer) have to share my opinions.

First, let me say that I admire both you and Michael for your ability to discuss these issues civilly and with a smile on your faces. I was impressed by the fact that you both agreed, for instance, in the discussion that some people (perhaps including, as you hinted, your own father) can take these issues too seriously for their own good (and perhaps even for the good of others with whom they disagree), and I'm afraid that I myself often fall into that latter category with my passion for my own ideas on certain button-pushing topics. So I envy you and Michael your sangfroid as you discuss the often divisive topics that you raise about ethnic identity.

Being more of a loose cannon myself, however, I still feel the need to take a "potshot" at something that Michael Riedel said during your interview on Theater Talk -- or, more precisely, for the spirit and implications of something that Michael Riedel said.

To be specific, Riedel chastises liberals for practicing condescension when they express sudden great interest in another culture -- and he even blames himself for falling into this alleged "trap" with his own sudden passion for Islamic art developed during a visit to the Middle East.

As I said in my previous e-mail, I agree that there does, indeed, exist some hypocrisy of the kind Michael mentions, especially in those cases where the "liberal in question" professes an admiration and an open-mindedness for a distant religion while yet showing nothing but disdain for the one closer to home (as, for instance, those Cassandras who warn of an imminent takeover by the Christian Right in America while advocating open-mindedness, tolerance and an ongoing dialog with Islam overseas).

But I disagree with Michael's inference that a mere sudden infatuation with another culture or religion should be something for which the smitten party feels apologetic, let alone an act for which the natives of that culture or religion should condemn the smitten party for condescension. Michael presents this idea by way of attacking liberals, but this is, in fact, the new liberal point of view on this topic (as expressed in various subtle -- and sometimes not so subtle -- ways by groups ranging from La Raza to the NAACP): that only a member of a given religion, culture (or race) can "truly understand" that given religion, culture (or race). I believe that this is a false assumption (as, for starters, the most insightful book about American Democracy was written by a Frenchman) -- and an assumption that is now a major stumbling block to inter-ethnic understanding around the world. It effectively quashes dialogue by disallowing all outside voices, because, thanks to this unexamined premise, any ideologically challenged group or ethnicity can respond to criticism these days merely by denying the outside opposition the right to even hold an opinion on such matters: "they are, after all, not one of us. How could they possibly have anything useful to say to us or about us?"

I therefore welcome your comment that you would not personally despise Michael (as he himself half-jokingly suggests) for his sudden enthusiasm for Islamic art. But if I were in your position, I would take this tolerance one step further and encourage Michael to continue his explorations in that quarter. It would be no skin off my back (were I Islamic), and he may (in the midst of his apologetic enthusiasm) unearth treasures from my own culture that I had never even heard about. After all, it's a truism that tourists (by very virtue of their previous unfamiliarity with a place) often see marvels that the nearby population either miss entirely or ignore. In such cases, the tourist, it could be argued, has a BETTER view of these regions and their culture than does the local. So rather than condemning such tourists for their supposed air of condescension, we should perhaps blame the locals for having become jaded and myopic to the wonders around them. Far from despising such enthusiasts, then, the locals should welcome them as useful reminders to wake up and smell the "cultural roses."

I believe that cultures, just like people, require the occasional opinions of outsiders in order to reach self-knowledge. That's why I feel the need to write you today: because I believe that the new default assumption, that outsiders have "no standing" in a debate about cultures that are foreign to them, is making this self-knowledge impossible and, worse yet, exacerbating inter-ethnic problems around the globe by quashing potentially conciliatory dialogue before it even begins.

Thanks again for your time and for raising these interesting issues.

Brian Quass
Basye, VA, USA
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Brian's response to Science News story by Thomas Sumner: Geologists discover tectonic plate in February 4, 2015 edition of Science News

Problematic Pronouns

Excellent article. Unfortunately, Thomas (or his editor) commits a sort of affirmative-action error that's very common with editorial staffs these days: he uses the pronoun SHE to mean HE or SHE (the example of the skater). This usage sounds cavalier, patronizing (to women) and off-putting to me. When feminists complained about pronouns in the 1970s, their argument was that they could not bring themselves to consider that the word HE could also include women. I find it irritating and presumptuous that modern writers and editors have responded to that original complaint by creating a new injustice of sorts: by requiring men to believe that SHE can now mean HE. It may seem awkward to certain editors, but PLEASE stick with the accurate but more wordy "he or she" or "they" or "one" -- don't take my mind off of an otherwise excellent article by using a provocative choice of pronouns, one that is laden with assumptions that many people, such as myself, do not share.

What Have We Learned

1) Since Brian's insight here is so basic and seemingly undeniable, how is it that so many editors continue to ignore it? Could it be that Brian's gentle remonstrances on the subject are being misinterpreted as personal attacks, against which an editor feels compelled (will-they, nill-they) to protect their surprisingly fragile ego, as who should stick their fingers in their ears, crying, "I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!!" Explain.
pronouncs, feminism, he or she

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Response to Robot Journalist Finds New Work on Wall Street, by Tom Simonite, MIT Technology Review, January 2015

The Pied Piper of Efficiency

Like many other I.T. "advances" these days, Quill software begs a question that geeks and their boosters have yet to address: At what point, if any, does software become so disruptive of the economy that it would be better not to release it (at least until such time as viable replacement jobs have been identified)?

Of course, even to ask that question is counter-revolutionary heresy in today's tech-centric environment. The assumption of the faithful at Singularity U. is that we have no choice but to follow the Piped Piper of efficiency right off the economic cliff, if that turns out to be where that hip Johnny One-Note is leading us as a country.

But let me rephrase the question as the following hypothetical, in the hopes of rendering it more palatable, at least to the philosophically minded:

If we discovered a software that would immediately render 4/5 of the country unemployed upon its release, would it be wise (let alone moral) to release it?

Assuming that we can all agree that the answer to the foregoing question is NO, then it follows that there is, indeed, (even in the minds of the most ambitious of Valley entrepreneurs) a point at which the combined economic fallout of I.T.'s ongoing "solutions" becomes too great for the society to bear. On that, I'm hoping that we're all agreed.

It is in the spirit of that modest understanding that I repeat my opening question: At what point, if any, does software become so disruptive of the economy that it would be better not to release it (at least until such time as viable replacement jobs have been identified)?

I'm not advocating Ludditism per se, but given the economic malaise and growing chasm between rich and poor, I think it's only fair to ask if a "phased roll-out" of disruptive technology doesn't make more sense than this continued dogmatic rush to "innovate" at all costs.

Today's rush to ruin reminds me of the mother who asks the thoughtless child: "If your friend jumped off a cliff, would YOU do so?" And I can't help but hear today's child responding: "Yes, if he or she worked for Google!"

That said, there are some killer apps that we could use right away: namely, the ones that actually CREATE jobs for human beings rather than taking them away. For all their genius, however, that's one bar that today's software programmers can't seem to reach. Permalink

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On Identity and politics in America: a letter to playwright and author Ayad Akhtar

Open Letter to Ayad Akhtar

Good afternoon, Ayad,

Although I have yet to either see your plays or to read your books, I have begun following your career through television and newspaper interviews and I wanted to thank you for your courage in tackling the difficult issues of identity and religion (and particularly the Islamic faith) in the tense (or at very least "fraught") geopolitical and social environment of the early 21st century. I believe that you have (personally and in your work) successfully identified one of the hidden troublemakers in the current environment of "inter-ethnic" misunderstanding, namely the unacknowledged remnants of tribalism that exist in every human being. I agree with you (or at least with what I take to be your "position" on these matters) that one of the first steps in promoting understanding between peoples is to simply acknowledge the existence of these remnants, lest we misinterpret the inevitable, subtle but subconscious tribal biases of others as willful defensiveness and stubbornness on their part (while yet failing to identify those selfsame shortcomings in ourselves).

I do believe, however, that there are limits to which we can and should take this line of reasoning, lest we fall into the exasperated nihilism of King Lear and conclude that, "None does offend. I say none." At some point, I believe that we all (Muslims, Christians, atheists, etc.) have to acknowledge a certain set of basic objective truths if we are to defend our own humanity as a species.

For example, I believe that we should all be able to agree that deliberately targeting civilians in a war (in the name of establishing Sharia) is OBJECTIVELY WORSE than inadvertently killing civilians (in an attempt -- however ill-considered we may consider it to be -- to overthrow a dictator).

If, however, we insist that this latter point of view is a mere expression of subconscious tribalism on my part, then we are left in a world with no objective measures whatsoever, where everybody's always ultimately justified, a world therefore in which might truly does make right -- which is ironic, indeed, since those who invoke such moral relativism frequently do so in the name of attacking supposed strong-arm "imperialist" ideology.

Even as we speak, a segment of the French population is grumbling about honoring the Hebdo victims. I believe that this misplaced (and to me ignoble) grumbling is the inevitable result of the kind of moral relativism that I'm warning against here. Such griping, in my opinion, only appears defensible to its practitioners because they fail to acknowledge any objective standards by which our humanity can be judged. It is, I believe, the ultimate expression of argument ad hominem to say, as these people effectively do: "Your tribe inadvertently killed someone from my tribe while dethroning a dictator: so it's only fair that I now, cold-bloodedly and with self-righteous malice aforethought (preferably on live television), target you and your relatives in the name of vengeance."

Michael Riedel delights in your Jewish character's supposed patronizing double standards -- but here, I think, is the real double standard of liberals in this connection:

I personally know many liberals who mercilessly bash Christianity and are forever sounding alarm bells about the supposed rise of Christian fundamentalism. Then, after acts of violence by Islamic fundamentalists, they are either completely silent, or even "blame the victim" by employing the sort of moral relativism mentioned above (often while warning of a great upcoming anti-Islamic backlash -- which, of course, is fine in and of itself, but representative of a hypocritical concern in the eyes of the aforementioned Christians).

Please, please, please do not dismiss this as carping, much less hate speech. I really am a fan (or at least a latent one). True, I have yet to see your plays, but I have never heard a better definition than yours on the subject of what it means to be an American (adapting, reevaluating one's ethnic heritage, etc.), and I believe that your acknowledgment of tribal proclivities is a conceptual step forward in world understanding (one backed by some of the latest findings in genetics and neurology). My point is merely that this insight has limits that can and should be acknowledged, lest the world adopt a binary moral scheme in which there are no objective degrees of evil, only Right and Wrong, in which every world player is either Hitler or Saint Francis of Assisi.

Surely, one crucial step toward reaching an inter-ethnic consensus is to agree that such consensus is at least theoretically possible -- in other words that there are, in fact, some objective realities on which we can all agree, regardless of our tribal affiliations.

Sincerely Yours,
Brian B Quass
Basye, Virginia, USA

PS Speaking of identities, I personally believe that the term "white" is often subtly prejudicial these days and should be replaced with a more objective term, such as European-American. As a European-American myself, I always feel mildly insulted when referred to as "white" (especially in a world where I would -- tantalizingly enough -- need only one drop of African-American blood in order to be considered "black"!) But then that's a topic for a whole new e-mail!

Questions for Further Study

1) The author of the above (ahem, admittedly) "highly affecting harangue" has been known to say that Radical Islam is to Modern Christianity as Sadism is to Masochism. Explain.

2) Ayad (bless him) has not yet quite seen his way clear to respond to the above e-mail (Editor's note: Brian (the kingdom of heaven be his, too) is writing this in March 2015). In 500 words or less, address the probable scruples that a playwright of his stature might be entertaining in thus snubbing our hero. Then explain, not only why Ayad's misgivings are misplaced, but how his refusal to even pick up the proffered gauntlet of debate is a metaphor for the modern disdain for philosophy.

3) Re-read Brian's (confessedly) charming postscript above. Explain why it's so much easier for a radical to ignore the postscript entirely than it is for them to logically refute its counter-revolutionary import.

4) This is "neither here nor there", but why does Verizon keep prompting me on my laptop to download software for my Samsung phone, only to tell me that I don't have enough space on my hard drive -- after which it aborts the install but then starts pestering me once again (not three seconds later!) with irritating download reminders at the bottom right of my computer screen (which I can't make completely disappear because the only two options they give me are "Install Now" and "Install Later")? I mean, shouldn't there be some sort of button that I can click on to escape this vicious circle by informing Verizon that I don't WANT to install an update for my PHONE on my LAPTOP computer, thank you very much? Explain.
ayad akhtar, identity, muslim, christian, religion, tribalism, michael riedel, terrorism

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Open letter to digital guru Walter Isaacson about the shortcomings of the Google search engine

Dear Walter Isaacson

Dear Mr. Isaacson,

I saw your recent interview and discussion with John Hollar at the Computer History Museum. Although I found it both enjoyable and informative, I hope you will allow me to respectfully share my dissenting point of view on one particular item of discussion, namely your implication that Google's algorithms (and the resulting search engine rankings) present a valuable (and, as it were, objective) way of bringing quality content to the fore. I do not believe that this is true, for even if we assume perfect good will on Google's part when it comes to the way that it ranks "organic" search results (a generous conclusion, imho, given the inherent opaqueness of algorithms, especially when written by a billion-dollar for-profit corporation that has a financial interest in who comes out ahead) there are still serious questions about this "popularity criteria" that Google is said to be employing (based on backlinks, etc.)

All algorithms, of course, are created with basic assumptions in mind, and Google's assumption here is that the cream will rise to the top. I submit that this is false when it comes to many of the best and most original ideas of humankind, and that the general public (Google's supposed supreme arbiters) are not going to rescue such diamonds from the rough -- without the prompting of some sort of publicity -- meaning that an author without "connections" and/or P.R. savvy is often destined for online obscurity. Google never brings such singular material to the fore: instead, it relies on the crowd to "sign off" on that material first. This one precondition ensures a mundane, predictable, practical list of search results (many of them near duplications of info from other predictable and practical sites, by the way) but it prevents the search results from giving an eye-opening look at many different ways of viewing a given subject (a vista of intriguing novelty that used to be open to all "searchers" during the early days of WebCrawler and Alta Vista).

But rather than discussing this issue in the abstract, let me mention a few specific cases from my own experience. As both a writer and musician, I have been creating all sorts of "unusual" online content for almost two decades now -- for which I used to receive regular, enjoyable and helpful feedback (and even some money!) in the early days of the Web, at which time many search engines made a point of highlighting anything that appeared to be both new and unusual.

Then, after Google both monopolized search and "went commercial", the words "new" and "unusual" suddenly became pejorative terms that guaranteed low rankings. Google did not want new and unusual: they wanted tried and true. So folks with connections (the stodgier the better, so backlinks from .edu beat backlinks from .com) began to thrive, while the content of non-credentialed folks like myself (who had little more to offer than a unique way of seeing the world) began to be buried under pages and pages of semi-repetitive but "useful" information -- often pages that had been Wikified into plenty of simplified charts and tables so that antsy data scavengers could easily "pick over them" (and then leave without so much as posting a 'thank you' note).

I am a musician with three-plus decades' worth of keyboard experience. Three months ago (just in time for Christmas 2015) I uploaded a new fully orchestrated version of "Joy to the World" to Google's YouTube.

AS OF JANUARY 29, 2015 IT HAS RECEIVED ZERO VIEWS. ZERO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Is that really reasonable, Mr. Isaacson? Is that how search rankings should work -- completely bury something new like that?

(here's the link if you care to watch it -- but my point is not that it's "brilliant" -- but that it surely deserves at least SOME initial audience)


Zero hits? Surely someone out there would be interested in seeing EVERY new half-serious recording of a Christmas song. If they decide it's crap, let them "block me" by all means -- but first let them know that I exist. Does it really make sense to, as it were, shield everyone from my music until it first becomes popular, as it were, ex nihilo? That's what Google's "popularity criteria" does.

Google is apparently waiting for signs that the video is popular.... But they're not going to show the video in search results, so how will the video become popular? Apparently not until I start networking and "playing the game" -- or buying Adwords credits.

I could give you countless examples of articles that I have written over the last decade that have gone ABSOLUTELY NOWHERE on Google -- received no hits whatsoever except from "bots", malicious and otherwise. This means, of course, that the search engine rankings have been pitiful for these articles.

For instance:

Spoof: Garrison Keillor interviewing Howard Stern (This is a novel idea, no? Surely someone should at least SEE IT???)
Play: Death of a Webmaster (comedy based on Miller's classic)
Article: Deconstructing The Rapper: (funny lyrics analysis)
Telescript: Odd or Even: (parody of "Deal or No Deal" game show)

I have created entire new genres of articles -- none of whose episodic posts have attracted ANY comment:

1) Movie reviews provided in the form of presidential press conferences (by "the moviegoer of the United States of America")
2) Op-ed pieces written in the form of Church Sermons by "Father O'Really"
3) Blog posts written in the form of stand-up comedy routines

I have created an entire A-to-Zed picture-illustrated dictionary of Britishisms -- not ONE SINGLE HIT.

Again, my point here is not that I'm a "brilliant" creator who's being ignored. I wasn't brilliant in 1998, but neither was I ignored. Before Google turned "new" and "unusual" into bad words, I was even earning a little money online from my site content, several hundred a month during the heyday of the Internet's early novelty fetish.

Since Google went commercial, however, I've not simply earned nothing, but I've become invisible. Again, I may be a crap writer, but when I publish an article like "John Q was a terrorist" -- a send-up of the public's fascination with the movie "John Q" -- I expect at least a little HATE MAIL. But I get absolutely nothing. NOBODY ever sees it. And, yes, I have been dutifully following Google's instructions for over a decade now on how to "big up" my pages with meta tags, etc. I can safely say that no advice from the Google webmaster forum has ever made ANY noticeable difference in making my online work visible.

I hope that my point of view makes at least some sense to you. It would be reassuring to me to have someone with your technological savvy at least concede that I am not entirely mad to feel the way that I do.

You talk of the connection of the humanities and technology -- but if I have learned one thing over the last two decades, it's that I, as a writer and musician, should have largely ignored the Internet during that time and taken what skills I had out into the real world. For, despite early misleading results on this score, the Internet (at least under Google's officiating) is not an incubator for new ideas and approaches -- but rather a sort of aftermarket for ideas and approaches that have already received some tangible stamp of approval prior to "coming to the party."

Brian Quass
Online content producer since 1997


Hello again, Viktor. I hope all is well.

I haven't pestered you in months, so I thought I'd use that forbearance as a pretext to share an e-mail with you. To be precise, it's the copy of a Facebook message that I sent yesterday morning to Walter Isaacson. In it, I take passionate (but I hope respectful) exception to
the digital media guru's belief that Google's search algorithms provide an objective, fair, useful, and even admirably creative way of ranking search engine results.

Best wishes,
Brian B Quass
Basye, Virginia, USA

PS While I'm slamming Google, I might as well take this postscript potshot:

Why does Google (and its many geek boosters) believe that it's fair (or at least non-problematic) for the search giant to prominently post Google+ ratings and reviews alongside the names of professionals (doctors, dentists, psychologist, psychiatrists, etc.) often based on a ridiculously small sample group of 2 to 12 totally non-credentialed "reviewers"? Does Google, for all its number-crunching savvy, know nothing at all about relevancy, context, and scientific polling procedures? One wonders how many careers they've up-ended (or misleadingly advanced) with this blatantly simplistic approach.

If I'm looking for a local psychiatrist and and I see (on page 1 of the relevant search results) that they have been reviewed twice -- once very unfavorably -- I will have second thoughts about making an appointment -- never mind the fact that the one unfavorable review may have been posted by Hannibal himself.

This postscript is not really off-topic either, in my view, because it's another instance where Google boosters are so agreeably stupefied by Google's efficiency that they are blind to the glaring deficiencies of the assumptions upon which this efficiency is operating.


For Further Study

1) Walter Isaacson (bless his heart) has not yet seen his way clear to acknowledge Brian's heartfelt broadside (see above), let alone to take up the proffered gauntlet of discussion. Write a 500-word essay that logically accounts for this oversight, being sure to dilate in full on the unbounded hubris of the high-and-mighty when it comes to disingenuously ignoring the very existence of their non-credentialed critics, as if one had to have a flipping license these days (or an op-ed column on the Huntington Flippin' Post) merely to disagree with his highness. (I'm just sayin': Walter and I both put our pants on one leg at a time.)

2) Would it have killed Walter Isaacson to at least tell Brian (rank nobody that he apparently is) that he (the apparently high and mighty Walter) actually received Brian's Facebook message? (No, right? Obviously not! I'm just sayin'!) Explain.

3) Granting the perhaps somewhat fraught proposition that Brian is out of his mind (some, indeed, characterize question 2 above as "a hateful lashing out" on the part of an "obviously troubled soul, dogged by self-doubt and deep questions of personal identity"), what's a good remedy? Should Brian consider moving to, say, Colorado or Washington state, therein to start toking modest medicinal amounts of marijuana on a daily basis to moderate what we might refer to here as his counterproductive passion in this regard? Though we might pooh-pooh the methodology (are drugs not evil unless officially prescribed by the medical establishment?), the outcome of this approach(the transformation of Brian into Mr. Cool with sudden heaps of matter-of-fact tolerance for human foibles) would probably be welcomed by the Walter Isaacsons of the world, though I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the Walter Isaacsons of the world to own up to that fact even by e-mail (let alone a phone call), high and mighty as they apparently are. (There I go again. Sorry, Walter, but you done plucked my last nerve with your total failure to respond like that. Hey, wait a minute. Didn't Oregon recently legalize marijuana, too? Maybe I'll move there.)
google, walter isaacson

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E-mail sent today (January 8, 2015) to the This Morning podcast from the Wall Street Journal.

The Dark Side of Relevancy

Hey, Gordon,

I like the podcast. As a night worker, I enjoy the opportunity to catch up on the national news despite my inability to watch any of the usual early evening news offerings on television.

That said, I have two pieces of constructive criticism in the form of suggestions:

1) Consider allowing listeners (at least those, like myself, who speak up on this issue) to "opt out" of "targeted advertising" (as opposed to regular advertising for a generic audience). As a 55-year-old webmaster, I find it downright eerie that the first two commercials that I heard today on your podcast were about website creation and prostate cancer respectively. The ads were obviously targeted directly toward my demographic, and possibly toward me personally. This gives me a creepy feeling, as if a nagging in-law were in charge of WSJ advertisements -- a nagging in-law who's been snooping around my desk and rummaging through my trash cans. Now I am in suspense every time I hear an ad on your podcast, wondering what this digital busybody is going to foist upon me for my own good and what that choice might have to say about my online persona and how it's being tracked online. Speaking of which: These ads are also a jolting reminder that I am, indeed, being followed by advertisers who are taking notes on me. I don't know how others react to this (or how they will eventually react as ads get more and more "relevant" in this way) but I am much less likely to follow your podcast on a daily basis now (as I had originally planned to do) in light of these advertiser attempts to parlay their online "spying" data into ad sales.

2) Speaking of ads: just one, please!

I think that I heard just one in the first "This Morning" podcast that I listened to. Today's podcast had at least two in the first 10 minutes. (Perhaps this is even by design? that the number of ads increases as a function of time?) Although this would have been more tolerable had the ads not been so aggressively chosen for me personally (see comment #1 above), I think you'd gain a bigger podcast following (and ultimately make more advertising revenue) by seriously limiting the number of ads that are inserted in this podcast, ideally to just one (as it were "ultra") opening ad, for which you could charge the sum of the fees that you are currently charging to a variety of podcast advertisers. I think people are learning to accept ads in valuable podcasts, but I don't think that most people are ready for podcasts to start emulating TV shows when it comes to ad frequency.

Besides, if I knew that there was to be only one ad during the entire podcast (albeit a different "single ad" for each different user), I could probably temporarily "get past" the privacy concerns that I mentioned above. But I am not prepared to sit through a litany of biographically informed advertisements (laden with the baggage of privacy concerns) just to catch up on the morning news. (True: I'll be targeted on other sites, too -- say while READING the news online -- but only by ads that I can ignore or, barring that, can easily click away from. The podcast, however, is a linear creation, so one generally listens to all of it or none of it.)

[ Sigh ]

I inserted a sigh here because I so seldom get responses to letters like these -- but hopefully you'll receive (and even read!) this e-mail, and at least consider the issues and suggestions that I have raised. (Not that I doubt you personally, of course, but historical data suggests that I'm probably writing this for my benefit alone.)

To sum up: "This Morning" is an informative podcast, a great way to catch up on world events, BUT....

Sincerely Yours,
Brian Quass
Basye, Virginia
wall street journal, targeted ads,this morning

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In response to the following article about Internet Hate Speech: http://www.technologyreview.com/photoessay/533426/the-troll-hunters/

The Troll Hunters: my response

With all due respect to an obviously very capable writer, there are a half dozen "elephants in the room" that Adrian has failed to acknowledge (let alone analyze) when it comes to the issues that he raises in this article:

1) We're told that the Research Group investigated the posts of a Right Wing website. This begs the question: was the online Left Wing held accountable, too, for any hyperbole of which its members might have been guilty when commenting online? (Did any of them, for instance, advocate the assassination of George W. Bush?)

2) What is the Research Group's definition of "hateful"? There are those in the U.S. who consider homosexuality a sin, for instance, based on their apparently sincere understanding (or perhaps misunderstanding) of some biblical text. Are these people (prima facie) "hateful" simply because they are out of touch with the reigning zeitgeist? Must everyone henceforth conform only to speech that is acceptable to the adamant majority?

3) How old are the records in which the Research Group is looking for their self-described "hate speech"? Internet documents do not generally have an expiration date. Does this mean that, like politicians, we are all now responsible for everything that we've ever said or done, albeit decades ago, provided that it is recorded somewhere online? Will the future Research Groups of the world be looking for the online commenting foibles of our youth?

4) Regarding that hate suspect who swore that his Internet account had been hijacked: It's not clear from your article why the show host treated that man's protests with such incredulity and disdain. Accounts do get hacked and viewpoints (especially radical ones) do get published under unsuspecting people's names. Is the show host so sure of his own methods (as regards the notoriously complex online world) that no one that he charges with hate speech has a right even to appeal his accusations? There seems to be some perverse logic among victimologists and other fire-brand moralists: namely that some charges are so serious in and of themselves, that a person so charged need no longer be afforded the customary right of denial, let alone of defending themselves against such heinous accusations (before they are summarily punished with "unmasking" -- by a talk show host who's been self-invested with a sort of papal infallibility).

5) One of the Research Group's "victories" was unmasking a person for saying that Muslims were genetically predisposed for violence. Although this is a thoughtless way of speaking, this comment does not necessarily indicate ill-will on the part of the commentator in question. To think that it does shows a failure to appreciate the potential ambiguities of the human language. In fact, there are reputable scientists who have identified different genetic propensities in different ethnic groups. (See, for instance, "A Troublesome Inheritance" by Nicholas Wade.) Or is that a discussion that the Research Group is not going to tolerate? Are they the new Catholic Church fighting Copernicanism? (Of course to say that genetics has a role in group behavior is far from saying that genetics "causes" a group to behave this way or that way -- but are we going to penalize folks for scientific imprecision, under the presumption that we know what "they must have meant" when they made their unacceptable comments? Who's to decide in such cases whether a person is speaking -- albeit confusedly -- with reference to scientific considerations or whether he or she is simply prejudiced, period, full stop?)

6) Although hate speech is a very noticeable problem, the mundane reality is that most Internet users already practice a surprisingly large degree of self-censorship when they're online: witness the banal character of the comments on the vast majority of Facebook pages. Anti-hate speech legislation could have the unintentional effect of killing whatever frankness and candor remains online today.

I recently wanted to start a "black-white" dialogue website about race relations with an African-American friend of mine (I am Caucasian) but he refused to participate unless he could do so anonymously. Yes, ideally, everyone's free to speak their mind online: the reality is different, because in the real world, people have to get along with (and even get jobs from) the people that they may be offending online.

Unfortunately, the Research Group gives contrarians and original thinkers just one more reason to clam up in Cyberspace: because such groups act as judge and jury when it comes to deciding what is "beyond the pale" (and hence suitable for "exposure") -- usually failing to realize how their own definition of the word "hateful" is subjectively colored by their own ideology.

Questions for Further Study

1) Surprise, surprise! Adrian Chen (bless his heart, to be sure!) has not yet seen his way clear to respond to Brian's almost surprisingly insightful litany of observations (see above). Give at least five potential reasons for this apparent oversight, being sure to evaluate the roles of jealousy and wounded pride.

2) Some say that the foregoing study question actually implies "jealousy and wounded pride" on the part of Brian himself! Such people are dead wrong, of course, but (just for fun, as it were) list some reasons why one might say so -- being sure to conclude, however, with a definitive rhetorical affirmation of the obvious, namely that Brian has about as much "jealousy and wounded pride" as my right toe! (the smallest one, I mean, the one which -- as the mighty bard sings -- goes 'wee wee wee, all the way home!')
troll hunters, research group, adrian chen, technology review

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Comedy routine about the movie Chariots of Fire

Chariots of Belated Fire

Bring me my chariot of fire...
after giving it a tune-up and an oil change, of course

Toodles, gang, and welcome to the Zodiac Lounge. Remember, Drinks half-price until 7:00.

Titters, very scattered applause

Look at that truck driver over there at table 18: He's like, "Toodles? What kind of stand-up routine is this, anyway?"

Don't worry, sir. I'll be indirectly affirming my masculinity shortly. But when you're as comfortable in your manly skin as I am (and indeed I'm very close to sighing contentedly in this connection even as we speak) you're able to radiate that confidence on the installment plan, yes?

Deathly silence

And now that I've puzzled everybody in the room -- or maybe even scared them --

Has anyone here seen "Chariots of Fire" yet? The movie? Oh, you have? Really? All of you?

Well, come to think of it, it has been out for quite a while now, hasn't it? -- still, I only just got around to watching it last night on DVD. (It's been on my "to-do" list for the last 25 years -- first to see it in the theaters, which I never did, then to see the VHS, which I never did, and finally to watch the latest DVD version of the film, which I SO did last night that it isn't even funny, girlfriend, I am telling you! -- whatever that might mean.)

So now, may I have the envelope, please. (Oh, this is so exciting!)

I don't mean to disappoint anybody, but I'm not here to praise director Hugh Hudson, but to bury him, so to speak.

Half-Price Sale on all Chariots of Fire

We will NOT be undersold!

I mean, for starters, the movie seemed... I don't know, dated somehow. (Don't ask me how.)

No, seriously, I do have a bone to pick with the Colin Welland screenplay, at any rate.

Mind you, on a certain "prima facie" level, the film may be called "great," insofar as it won four Oscars, has an unforgettable theme song, and has proven to be a real crowd pleaser over the years.

But I submit to you nonetheless, ladies and gentles, that if you cross-examine your movie-going soul vigorously (that is to say if you slap it around a little under a bright light and you insist that it come clean at long last or, so help you, you'll "take this whole interrogation thing" to some unspecified yet ominous-sounding "new level"), you finally do uncover one or two scruples regarding this 1981 classic:


"Boo" is it now? In the words of a certain David Letterman of television fame, "Don't make me come out there!"

All Chariots Must Go!

...to make room for the 2011s!


My main objection is that the film seems, at some level, too self-consciously intent on creating the uplifting impression with which it ultimately leaves the viewer, with the all-too-timely editing that moves the movie along from morality play to morality play, in the obvious service of the picture's overall message, however admirable that message may be in and of itself. It's as if the filmmakers didn't trust reality to elevate the soul in the way that they intended to do, so they achieved their goal by editing out any of the cross-currents of moral ambiguity with which real life is usually fraught, thereby straining the audience's psychological credulity by beatifying the heroes (Eric Liddell as unvarnished saint) and vilifying the villains (Master of Trinity as Snidely Whiplash himself, whom one almost expects to see rubbing his hands together at any moment in an excess of maliciously discriminatory glee, mumbling some heartless comic-book laughter along the lines of "Mouha-ha-ha!" -- until, when he hears that the Jewish Abrahams has ultimately triumphed at the olympics, it would not have been wholly out of character for the Anglo-Saxon esthete to have shouted: 'Curses! Foiled again!')



I mean, don't get me wrong: prejudice is wrong, wrong, wrong: But it does not follow that we need Hudson and co. to effectively super-impose Chyron graphics beneath the principal players, alternatively reading "Good Guy" and "Bad Guy."


Did I mention that drinks are half-price until 7:00? (Jeepers-creepers, gang: What a web we weave when we practice to undeceive the cinematographic zeitgeist of 21st-century America!) Are you kidding? Itsy-Bitsy-Spider doesn't know the half of it! (Whatever that means, right, gang? Ha ha! Ahem.)


Look, all I'm saying is, it's maybe not a coincidence that this film has become so popular with certain fundamentalist church groups over the years: groups who, by definition almost, have no problem whatsoever with the absence of moral ambiguity and even consider it a virtue -- never mind the fact that the details of their religious certainties are so often at logical loggerheads, so to speak, with the fine dogmatic print in the religious beliefs of the rival sects in the neighborhood, not to mention the contrasting credos of the rival religions throughout the globe.

Chariots of fire

No Money Down on a Brand-New Chariot of Fire

Scattered applause, murmured assent, a few lingering boos

Thanks for the scattered applause and, as 'twere, murmuring assent. (The only thing that troubles me now are the few lingering boos that I'm still hearing out there!)


Still, even a heart of stone like my own was moved (to very wet eyes indeed, if not to positive TEARS!) by the musical affirmation of the human spirit just before the closing credits when the boys choir at Gonville and Caius sang "Jerusalem" with those famous words by poet William Blake, their voices seemingly lifted skyward on the magic carpet of the vibrant pipe organ that accompanied them -- and I was moved, moreover (I must admit) not simply in spite of the moral certainties expressed in the ringing lyrics' of the hymn but because of them:

Bring me my bow of burning gold!

Bring me my arrows of desire!

Bring me my spear! O clouds, unfold!

Bring me my chariot of fire!


Now let us pray.

No, seriously, you've been a great audience, so here we go: One final "toodles" for the lot of you -- and this goes double for table number 18, yes?

Toodles, gang! (Someone get Paul Bunyan here another drink, will you? I think he's still not quite comfortable with the concept of masculinity on the installment plan! Well, all I can say to that is: Grrrr! sir! Absolute GRRRRRRR! Aye, I be so -- Oh, you don't know the half of it, I assure you, sir! Not the bloody half of it, sir! Humph!)

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c.2010 Brian Quass, Alexandria, VA USA
chariots of fire, spoof, parody

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How I learned to stop worrying and like Mark Zuckerberg

On Second Thought

I think the world is about to end -- not because of the latest terrorist abominations in the news, but because, for the first time in my life, I am thinking that Facebook may, indeed, have its uses, at least from a musician's point of view.

Go figure.

This apparent about-face of mine may come as a surprise, especially considering that it was just a week ago that I called Zuckerberg "the new Bernie Madoff."

Well, I can explain: You see, I had been ripped off previously (less than a year ago) by a company called Radio Airplay whom I paid over $700 to generate "fans" that I later discovered did not exist (but were generated by bots that had taken control of disused online profiles). Out of the nearly 400 fans that they reported to me (thus making me throw yet more money into their song promotion program), I have never been able to contact or even confirm the actual existence of any of them: not one.

So, when Facebook began reporting that I was "liked" by hundreds, I was suspicious. After all, many of these likers, judging by Facebook's own stats, had yet to even listen to my music.

Well, further study suggests that, yes, "likes" are strange things -- but they are not entirely valueless.

You know, pardon me a moment, but I can't even believe that I'm saying this. Just listen to me: I am actually suggesting that Mark Zuckberger is not Satan himself.

Boy, if I keep this up, before you know it, I'm going to be apologizing to his lordship for my past anti-Facebook diatribes.

But enough of this love fest. I still want to keep the billionaire on pins and needles regarding my loyalties lest I later find that this current re-evaluation was a mistake (prompted, perhaps, by a momentary impulse of masochism masquerading as the considered judgment of a reflecting soul. Hey, stranger things have happened, stranger). For, as the jilted lovers like to say, "I've been hurt before, Jeff, ya big lug!" (Well, the jilted lovers don't generally say all that, but you guys dig my rap.)

By the way, is it just me, or does anybody else out there keep accidentally referring to Mark Zuckerberg as Jeff Zuckerberg? I assume I'm confusing him with Jeff Bezos, but I have never, to my knowledge, misidentified Jeff Bezos as MARK Bezos.

How weird is that.
facebook, zuckerberg

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The unacknowledged disconnect between the values of Feminism and Christianity

Mother Mary Quite Contrary

to the dictates of Feminism, that is

It's disconcerting and informative sometimes to consider how far the American Zeitgeist has strayed from the philosophy of the Good Book in an ostensibly Christian nation such as ours (er, America, I mean, y'all). I was reminded of this last night when I heard Keira Knightley praising the feminist bona fides of the female character that she's playing in the movie "The Imitation Game," namely no-nonsense code breaker Joan Clarke. Later, in the same interview, Felicity Jones triumphantly made it clear that Jane Hawking, too (played by that latter actress in "The Theory of Everything") was no wall flower either, thank you very much, and that she was a strong personality in her own right. Humph! Both actresses went on to place special emphasis on the fact that their characters were no martyrs, if you please, as if nothing could be more disreputable than to don THAT crown of thorns in deference to the mere needs of others, especially when those others are of the male persuasion.

I wonder how the history of Christianity would have changed (or more likely disappeared) if feminists of this stripe were on-site when Mary was contemplating her upcoming status as the mother of Jesus.

Fem: Mary, art thou heavy with child?
Mary: You got it in one, babe.
Fem: Belike some cad hath knock-ed thee up.
Mary: Cad? Cad? Not a bit of it. I'll have you know I've been touched by the hand of God.
Fem: Hah! The hand of God, indeed. I notice that the hand of God didn't stick around after the event to pay the bills.
Mary: Hello? I'm about to give birth to the savior of the world, girlfriend. Everything's good!
Fem: Oh, yeah, everything's good for God. But what about your dance career?
Mary: Oh, I'm not THAT good a dancer.
Fem: Are you kidding me? You brought down the temple with that veil dance last year.
Mary: Well, I suppose they did like me.
Fem: Like schmike: The pharisees were industriously tapping their sandals to the beat of the tambour -- at least until the chief scribe noticed it and gave them all a dirty look.
Mary: Well--
Fem: And now you're passing up your chance! And for what? To be a mother? Please!

You get the idea. After an hour of such chitchat, Mary would be dialing 1-800-NO-THANK-YOU-GOD.

Questions for Discussion

Is Brian saying here that women should not be assertive?

What? Don't be stupid. Brian is just saying that subservience and martyrdom are not just for suckers anymore, not if one examines the lives of true heroes.

How does this article relate to the Japanese-Americans during World War II?

I'm glad you asked. The interned Japanese-Americans during World War II were heroes, but unfortunately their descendants (and thus Americans in general) are loath to fully acknowledge them as such since today's mind set (as in the radical Feminism outlook noted above) is that martyrs are suckers, and so the internees, according to the modern Zeitgeist, are rather to be chided than praised.

Logic Puzzle

Recently, five actresses gave interviews in which they discussed the assertive characters that they would be playing in movies that will be released next year. Using only the clues below, determine which role each will be playing, the name of the movie, the month it will be released, and the specific way in which the portrayal is expected to conduce to female empowerment.

1) Emma Whatfor will not be starring as the first female Rocky, a role that is expected to highlight the so-far relatively unsung importance (not to mention the valor, the beauty, the fortitude, etc.) of transgender fisticuffs.

2) Judi Clench, whose movie won't debut in March, will not be playing Slammer, the cigar-smoking Lesbian detective with a flippant disdain for what she calls (ahem) "constitutional niceties."

3) Hilary Swat says that her upcoming title role in "Jane Q" will prove once and for all that mob-pleasing selfish violence is no longer strictly the domain of men when it comes to securing preferential treatment for one's offspring at a local hospital.

4) Penelope "Cruz Missile" will be hitting the screens in December, but not as the no-nonsense Disney princess whose "madcapped" extramarital escapades are expected to highlight the gender-based double standards in sexual mores.

5) Sandra Bullish will star as "Sal the Bat Boy," a movie that won't be released in October, but which will show (for only the 1,456th time in modern Hollywood history) that women can be men, too. So there. (Humph!)
martyr, feminism, females, christianity

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How Google penalizes novelty with the self-serving assumptions behind its search algorithms

Death by Algorithm

Despairing post to the YouTube Product Forum on December 19, 2014

I understand that Google's algorithms rate videos on various factors including popularity and longevity, but why are their algorithms so INCREDIBLY stingy when it comes to displaying new videos in a findable location in search results? Let me cite a specific example:

Over a month ago, I uploaded a brand-new version of the Christmas carol "Joy to the World."


This is the most popular Christmas carol on the planet, yet my video has so far received ZERO views. Zero. And this is during the very heart of the Christmas season.

Now, even if my video (and its original musical arrangement) are utter garbage, surely someone out there would have an interest in quickly vetting EVERY new attempt at presenting this carol in a new way. (As a veteran musician and arranger, I would certainly want to know what other musicians are trying when it comes to a song that I'm arranging.) Surely it's in everyone's interest then to give such a new video at least SOME reasonable visibility in its early days, at least until such time as enough relevant views have given Google's algorithms a chance to make an INFORMED decision about the new video's probable popularity and then rank it accordingly.

I'm sure there are plenty of things that I can do, short of advertising, to have my video come closer to the top of relevant search results -- but visibility is a two-way street, and when organic results reach such a dismally low level (i.e., ABSOLUTE ZERO), I think it's fair to ask what role that the Google algorithms are playing in this state of affairs and if they shouldn't make changes, too, to help new videos see the light of day.

The Google algorithms are clearly designed to scorn everything new. And this is a death knell for the non-socially connected because it begins a vicious cycle:

Why is my video basically hidden?
Because I have no views.
Why do I have no views?
Because my video is basically hidden.
google, algorithms, search results, novelty

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Amazon lists "Rough Anal Sex" right next to the speeches of Martin Luther King in their search results for "collection"

Shameless Amazon.com

December 5, 2014

When I search for "collections" on Audible.com, a good 10% of the returned selections are hardcore porn. This has been the case ever since Amazon bought the company in 2008, and has remained the case despite my multiple complaints to the company. In fact, the situation seems to have gotten worse: today's "collections" search actually lists "The Speeches of Martin Luther King" right next to the "Rough Anal Sex Collection."

Shameless Amazon.com lists Rough Anal Sex Collection next to The Speeches of Martin Luther King at Audible.com

Editor's note: I know what you're thinking, and the answer is no: Our author does not purchase raunchy books, nor does he browse raunchy websites, so it's not like the tasteless search results that he's complaining of are only visible to the likes of him. Mother Teresa herself would have the same search results were she to search Audible for the word "collections" (assuming that there's wi-fi in heaven, of course).

Questions for Discussion

What do you mean, "Questions for Discussion"? Amazon executives are shameless money-grubbers: end of story!
amazon, audible, pornography, shameless, martin luther king, anal sex

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Confronting the naive psychological assumptions of American hero worship

Surprising Miss Daisy

December 4, 2014

"[He] had the fashion of calling everything 'odd' that was beyond his comprehension, and thus lived amid an absolute legion of 'oddities'."

from 'The Purloined Letter' by Edgar Allan Poe

It's interesting how Americans keep getting blindsided by inconsistencies in the personal behavior of celebrities: Michael Jackson, Bill Cosby.... Even Robin Williams himself would not stand the test of our moral expectations if his idolizing fans weren't determined to ignore some shady drug-related episodes of his past. Then there's the tawdry and cruel history of the personal life of the man who wrote "You Light Up My Life," which was, after all, one of the most compelling pieces of spiritually uplifting pop music ever composed.

I wonder how many more apparent moral discrepancies need to appear in our celebrities before we realize that human duplicity (or rather human moral multiplicity) is an inherent part of being Homo sapiens, and that these apparent bombshell revelations of iniquity on the part of our heroes are actually probable events that we consider extraordinary only because we have a simplistic and naive understanding of complex human psychology, a proper look at which would reveal every Jekyll to have his own Hyde -- if not a whole closet full of those ugly beggars.

Resolved, then:

Let's start loving celebrities for what they do when they're in the limelight -- while dropping the naive psychological assumption that their behavior in that arena has anything necessarily to say about their probable behavior in another, especially when that other is a realm of basic psychological needs and primal urges.

This is not a novel idea of mine, after all. Thomas Mann chided the world for this same naivety a hundred years ago.
bill cosby, michael jackson, robin williams, celebrities,behavior

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More Bounce to the Ounce thanks to Google's commercially biased algorithms

Google Analytics: Blaming the Victim

Comment posted today to Google Webmaster Forum

My new monthly Google Analytics report announces that I have an 80% bounce rate, which they say is probably because my pages are "confusing".

What is confusing about the following page titles?

Break Up Google
Why YouTube Should Not Exist
Denzel as Terrorist in John Q
Charles Rangel is WHITE!

I don't think there's anything confusing about those titles -- and each of those articles has a clear one-sentence article summary at the top of its permanent page, relevant keywords, a URL that repeats the article title, plus a clearly written one-sentence Meta description.

The fact is, Google has been burying my articles alive for well over a decade now, ever since Google went commercial (providing search listings whose first page often contains many obvious repeats of some newspaper article or op-ed piece, rather than 10 truly different listings). The least that Google can do now is to stop blaming the victim for a high bounce rate.

Suggestion: Google should try to learn from its own Analytics -- assuming it has any interest in giving visibility to pages like mine that criticize Google and Big Data and refuse to use Google Adwords. The inescapable conclusion from my Analytics reports is that my pages are far, far down the list for any relevant search terms. If this were not the case, I would at least receive occasional hate mail from idiots -- whereas, in reality, I have received less than five article-specific comments from anybody in 10 long years.

Whereas, before Google went commercial, I was making several hundred a month on Amazon sales from my articles.

So, Google: Please consider this comment as YOUR analytics report from me.
google, analytics, problems,

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Brian takes author to task for using "SHE" to mean "HE"

Another Email to Evgeny Morozov

In the following admittedly somewhat thought-provoking e-mail (the third missive that I've sent to Evgeny, by the way, who has not yet found leisure to respond to any of them, but I'm sure that the "Ev Meister" is quite the busy bee these days -- which, aren't we all?) I challenge Evgeny for the pronominal affirmative action implicit in his new book, "Click to Save Everything." (Of course, there's always the chance that the Feminist Newspeak in question was inserted by some editors with an agenda, in which case, I apologize in advance for the admittedly somewhat incisive indictment that follows.)

I love your book, Evgeny ("Click to Save Everything") -- but please please please please please don't use SHE (or HE, for that matter) when you mean HE OR SHE. It is VERY distracting and takes my mind completely off the topic of your book. The feminists in the '70s insisted that HE DOES NOT MEAN SHE. You are not helping matters now by insisting that SHE CAN MEAN HE. Even if you disagree with me on this, I would think that you would want to keep ALL of your readers' minds on the topic of your book -- and if that means using words like "one" or phrases like "he or she", then surely that's a reasonable compromise. Especially since you rarely use "SHE" in the way that I'm complaining about in any case-- so it would be easy enough for you to NEVER use it in this way that I find objectionable, philosophically problematic and "fraught" with latent implications.

I want to concentrate on the TOPIC of your fascinating book. As a philosopher myself, your use of SHE to mean HE OR SHE puts me completely off the topic -- and, for me, it turns your book into a covert nod to radical feminist Newspeak.

Very sincerely yours,
Brian Quass Permalink

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Announcing my failed attempt to discuss race in America.

Debatable Progress

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The following is an e-mail that I sent today to a "black" friend of mine on the subject of our possible online discussion of race in America.

Dear M:

Frankly, I'm not sure I have the energy to debate with you, M, because, based on your recent comments, I'd have to go all the way back to the beginning and explain to you why I'm worried about the current definitions of "black" and "white." I consider the importance of that discussion self-evident and you consider my interest in it a sign of pathology -- so we are starting WORLDS apart in our basic understanding of the problem.

I could give dozens of examples off the top of my head about why this terminological discussion is crucial to race relations in America -- dozens of reasons why it bothers me -- but I'll start with reference to one of your own comments.

You say that I don't know anything about the black experience based on television viewing. But don't you see? You have already employed the term "black" and left the discussion in disarray. What do you mean? Are you talking about people like Keysha Cole? She would say that you're NOT talking about her. Are you talking about my niece, who is 50% "black" but whose "black" parent is from Haiti? I dare say I know more about HER experience than anybody else in the world, short of her mother and father -- and I certainly know more about her than does the NAACP, who would easily consider her a future potential member while assuming that I have no place whatsoever in their organization, except maybe as a donor.

Even the magazine Science News reports findings based on experiments with "blacks" and "whites." That's how screwed up America has become with these labels, that scientists would dare to use such imprecise terminology! I immediately write in to complain to Science News every time they use the terms "Black and White" to describe test subjects because the terms are wildly imprecise and have no place in science. If "blacks", for instance, are 25% more likely to get disease "X" and my friend is 1/16% black, what does that mean? Does that means that he or she is 1/400th (1/16*1/25) more likely to get disease "X"? Science News, of course, won't give me any formula for calculating that likelihood because, like most people and groups in America, even THEY (scientists!) think that the terms "black" and "white" are self-explanatory.

Given, then, that my ideas have so little resonance with you, however (don't feel lonely, though: even Science News doesn't "get it," in my opinion), I really have no idea how to proceed with a discussion with you. If you deny what I take to be self-evident propositions (the dangerously confusing nature of "black/white" terminology, for instance) -- and indeed if you even ascribe my interest in that subject to pathology -- we are then so far apart in our evaluations of (and approach to) the race situation that I don't think I have the energy or talent to persuade you of any of my points of view on the topic.

You'll still always be my friend, of course, and if I can help you in any way, just give me a call -- but if I'm going to debate these issues with someone, I need to start with someone who at least finds some scrap of sanity in what I'm saying.


PS Obviously, "black" and "white" have meaning as terms for the past, because that's how people thought -- and people always acted on that understanding. Don't misunderstand me, then, that I'm trying to rewrite American history by getting rid of the labels that described it. I'm just saying that now, now that we know better, we no longer have to stick with the enslaving and limiting terminology of the past. The terminology helps create its own reality.

PPS Another reason I'm "into" race relations: My mom was always into race relations so I wanted to follow suit. (She was at many '60s marches -- tho' I'm sure one could psychoanalyze her reasons for being there -- which, by the way, is another trick of the anti-color-blind leaders: the minute that racial progress is made, they start demanding that their "white" friends be "really REALLY" un-racist, thus assuring racism forever). However, as an outsider, coming into her world, I've seen the black-white partnership of the '60s fall apart. The real irony now is that Martin Luther King day is almost entirely a "black" celebration. My mom and I went to a theater in Phoebus in the '90s to celebrate King's birthday, and we were one of maybe a dozen "white" people there among the several hundred attendees. Talk about irony What more evidence do you need that the post-King leaders in the African-American community have had no interest in promoting the advent of the color-blind society that was so eloquently championed by MLK?

See also Holder Challenge
race, eric holder, race relations, america, black, white, martin luther king, naacp

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An open letter to author Evgeny Morozov

Click Here to Save Everything

October 14, 2014

Hi, Evegny,

I have begun reading (well, okay, listening to) your book entitled "Click Here to Save Everything", and am finding it vastly informative and insightful. In fact, I have just taken a break from reading (er, listening -- while cleaning my condo, to be exact) in order to share a brief comment with respect to the presumption inherent in solutionism. So, if you have a moment, here goes:

As a 1989 philosophy graduate from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, USA,I used to be troubled whenever well-respected scientists and academicians would rail against philosophy, pooh-poohing it as an obsolete practice that has no relevance to real life and the so-called "hard" sciences. I was troubled not just because this attitude struck me as fundamentally wrong, but because I saw no easy way to refute it. It was the same as if someone had told me that a cat was not a mammal. I would know that they were wrong but I could not refute them without some reflection and research on my part.

Then came the Internet -- and the problem with these philosophy bashers became clear and straightforward to me: To put it simply: they assume that there are no assumptions in their modus operandi. This assumption (that there ARE no assumptions) strikes me as so naive that I can't help but think that those who hold it are either disingenuous or (at best) have managed to go their entire life without taking a halfway-decent Philosophy and/or a Logic 101 course.

Take Google, for instance. Recently (and perhaps even as we speak), Google was arguing in European courts that their company is not responsible for the pejorative phrases that are sometimes suggested to searchers via Google "autofill" under the theory that the algorithms that provide them are non-human and hence cannot be considered biased in any way. What Google, of course, fails to acknowledge is that the algorithms themselves are created by human beings who themselves have expectations regarding the sort of information that an adequate autofill function should provide.

These expectations are assumptions -- what philosophers call premises -- that can and should be questioned. I think Google wants to ignore the very existence of these assumptions, because even they must know that many of them won't hold up to scrutiny -- or at very least would, once identified, invite vigorous debate.

Google's assumptions in creating "autofill" include the notion that information should be indexed strictly according to user searches, without regard for the credentials or intentions of those doing the searching. This is an obviously flawed approach. For just one quick example: If an otherwise obscure person is wrongfully accused of an heinous crime, their name is likely to be evermore associated with that crime via Google's autofill system, since far more people are likely to query about the alleged offense than about the ultimate exculpation of the supposed offender. Certain online companies are already using this "autofill" deficiency to covertly libel rival companies, simply by hiring Turks (mechanical or otherwise) to perform numerous searches in which a rival company name is employed alongside a variety of pejorative terminology, thus associating the two search terms in Google's autofill database, and hence in the minds of future searchers who are using Google autofill.

But I'm sure that you know all this -- and much more -- better than myself.

I really just wanted to say thanks, and that I'm looking forward to the pages (audio) to come. Now I'd better get back to my (audio-assisted) housework!
evgeny morozo, click here to save everything, internet centrism, solutionism

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Proving that none of us are pefect

Make No Mistake

Well, okay, make a mistake: but only ONE!

You know, everybody makes mistakes in their life. I kid you not.

[Slightly awkward yet obviously anticipatory silence, occasional utensils clanking nervously, as it were, as if the very dinnerware partook of the general disconcert occasioned by the increasingly charged atmosphere]

Take Bing Crosby for instance. You know as well as I do that he never should have married Dixie Lee. (Hell, Dixie Lee found that out for herself, to her not insignificant cost, be it said!)

[Exploratory tittering, occasional full-blown chuckle]

And correct me if I'm wrong, but Joan Rivers should NEVER EVER have left Johnny Carson to star in her own show. (Just ask Joan's husband: rest in peace! whom you'll recall was such a thorn in the side of Rupert Murdoch -- and vicee versee -- that the moody mogul prematurely canceled the whole show rather than work with Joan's hapless better half.)

Then there's me: I make mistakes too.

[Incredulous guffaws, wary snorts, eyes rolling -- as it were loudly -- in several ostentatiously shaking heads]

Are you kidding? I should NEVER have ordered -- much less swigged down in one gulp -- this second Frozen Alligator!

[Crowd positively ROLLING with laughter -- absolutely IN THE FRIGGIN' aisles -- seriously, you should have been there!]

Hey, Vito, how much melon liqueur did you put IN this sucker, anyway!

[Loud, unabashed -- nigh on abject -- laughter, with Vito himself finding leisure to burst his own not inconsiderable seams]
bing crosby, joan rivers

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About the long sloooooooooooow arm of the law

Virtually Scotfree Scoundrels

Monday, September 15, 2014

If someone steals so much as $5 from my wallet, I can have the police on the scene in minutes and file a complete report, maybe even help the coppers nail the guy on the spot. If someone rips me off to the tune of $1,000 on the Internet it's another story. Now I can file a pro forma complaint with the so-called IC3.org and hope that maybe, possibly, someone, somewhere in American law enforcement will somehow, some way get back to me at sometime during my natural life span.

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Grudge us this day our daily bread... lest it raise our friggin' blood sugars through the roof, yo!

Yo, Jesus, about that bread I asked for

August 7, 2014

Well, bless my Froot Loops!

Oh, good morning, folks (folks of the 22nd century, I mean, when the cultural worm finally turns such that readers know classy authors when they read 'em...)

That's it, Stella. Leave the coffee on the Q-shaped doily and go dust my Mercedes-Benz E400 Hybrid. What's that? I know I haven't bought it yet, but practice makes perfect. Now away with you, vile tess!

(Hey, don't judge, folks, at least until you hear what Stella calls ME!)

Now, where was I?

Oh, yes: Bless my Froot Loops!

Do you know I read a book last night called "Wheat Belly" by a certain Dr. William Davis who claims that bread -- one of the five building blocks of our much vaunted USDA food triangle -- is essentially the root of all nutritional evil? That's right, bread.

Dang! And I had just got my head around the idea that red meat was the arch dietary villain!

See, folks, this is why I get a little more leery of unfettered Capitalism every day. (Capitalism, I love ya, dawg -- Hey, I'm just a flag-sewing American after all: but unfettered Capitalism?... well, not so much.)

I mean think about it:

The good doctor presented some very convincing arguments (with respect to the adverse health impact from the historically recent introduction of grasses into the human diet), enough that even a critic of the author might be caused to wonder (as it were in spite of themselves) why such notions as his have received so little (if any) attention in the popular media heretofore. For, his analysis aside, if Davis's FACTS are right (specifically his claim about the correlation between grain consumption and high blood sugar), then the question begs to be asked: Why has no prominent American public health official ever noticed this red-flag correlation before -- and if they have noticed it, why did they not immediately feel called upon to raise a hue and cry about it, saying, "Stop the presses! We've got to stop eating grass seed, for God's sake! Are we human beings crazy here or what?!" (Or exclamations to that effect.)

The lack of that response convinces me that the spirit of scientific investigation in America is not simply informed by, but trumped by, compromised by and ultimately guided by the spirit of Capitalism. And it's not because of some evil plot by the corporations (in this case, agribusiness). They're just protecting their interests. But in an age where so much research is sponsored by corporations, what corporation in its right fiduciary mind is going to fund a study whose results might tend to discredit their corporation's very raison d'etre?

So we've got to ask: cui bono? In whose interest is it, then, to expose what is (or even merely what MIGHT be) going on here with respect to the deleterious nutritional effects of grain consumption on the human diet.

Answer: No one. Or at least no one with the coffers to fund the well-publicized research necessary to document the threat and bring it on to the public radar?

Fortunately for America's health, there are these occasional proselytizing Cassandras who come along every now and then to point out these inconvenient truths. Just don't expect agribusiness to fund any research based on such voices in the wilderness, however. Or rather, we can expect plenty of research to be funded in response to Davis, but we can be sure that the results, while not necessarily false in themselves, will tout trivial and irrelevant truths that return the rosy cast to the status quo picture of grain consumption that Davis has taken such pains to discredit.

So, Stella, did you polish my fuel-efficient E-class yet? What's that? It was GONE?!!! Are you sure? It was there in my imagination just a MINUTE AGO!!!

Stella Goodpenny, ladies and gentlemen, my maid: Go, Stella! Go, Stella! Go, Stella!

Special Notice!

Remember, Brian Ballard Quass is not a doctor -- he just plays one on the Internet.

Did You Know?

Brian actually found leisure to recant his approval of Dr. Davis' grain-o-phobic thesis after holding parley with his sister (Brian's sister, I mean, not Dr. Davis's), a long-time nurse practitioner (just days after penning this otherwise affecting diatribe). The details of that about-face are beyond the scope of this article: suffice it to say here that the above article should now be taken with a grain of salt -- or should I say a grain of grain, Herr Davis' phobia notwithstanding! (Humph!)

For further discussion

Brian's abrupt recantation of his overall thesis (see above) in no way decisively invalidates his almost surprisingly poignant comment about Capitalism viz. scientific veracity. Explain.

For extra credit

What are the probable bust measurements of Stella Goodpenny (as cleverly deduced from the webmaster's coy verbal assignations in that quarter?)

Just for fun

Send Brian a totally unexpected gift of money, the larger the better. Consider enclosing a poem that speaks to your growing admiration of his worship's unpredictable yet still somehow emphatically agreeable prose. Then explain, in 500 words or less, how sending such money conduces to a sort of Pythagorean harmony of your soul.
wheat belly, dr. william davis, wheat, grass, diet, food triangle

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How YouTube's market victory was a loss for content makers and online creativity in general

Why YouTube Should Not Exist

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Did you ever stop and wonder why anyone needed YouTube in the first place? I've been able to upload my own photographs for decades now without first having to pass them through a central commercial server to make them visible. I've been able to upload my own audio for nearly as long without having to upload them to a central commercial server to make them audible.

Suddenly, with the advent of online video, the powers that be (the billionaires, basically: read Google and Facebook) have determined that video hosting is simply too potentially lucrative a procedure to be left in the hands of the content producer and his or her coders. So they've succeeded (through their existing huge market shares combined with strategic publicity and technology-inhibiting I.T. buyouts) in accustoming those heretofore free creators to a monopolized scheme for video publishing -- one that not only requires the content creators to use commercial services, but actually forbids them from making money off of their own videos, except for grudging last-minute exceptions made to parties who have deep enough pockets to raise a serious legal fuss on the subject.

And then some of these creators scratch their heads, wondering why the U.S. economy is in the tank!

(Just goes to show: if you want to shield yourself from all effective criticism, just wrap yourself in the Teflon mantel of "The Wow Factor.")

*Obviously, video streaming requires more bandwidth than pics, but individual ISPs would have been glad to make that available to users at competitive prices had Big Data not stepped in and monopolized the field.
youtube, internet

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Stand-up routine on reincarnation, by a comic who was even funnier in his last life

Reincarnation is for Hasbeens

Who Do You Think You Were, Anyway?

Thank you for the applause, you're too kind.

Reincarnation bumper sticker that says, Reincarnation is for Hasbeens -- buy now!


Right, reincarnation: Who believes in it? Let's see a show of hands.

Mercy on me, look at all the gullible dopes out there tonight.

No, seriously, I used to believe in reincarnation myself, until I started asking myself a few questions:

For instance, why does everyone who believes in reincarnation claim that they were some emperor or movie star in a former life? How come you never hear someone say that they were an unemployed actor in a former life? I can hear it now:

"Hey, guys, I used to sit here on this very street corner and swig cheap vodka in my previous life!"

Still, one does get that definite feeling of deja vu from time to time.

Take me, for instance: I was walking into McDonald's yesterday with my buddy Bill, when I suddenly stopped:

  • Bill: Why did you suddenly stop?

  • Brian: I've been here before!

  • Bill: Of course you've been here before: it's the local McDonald's!

  • Brian: No, I mean in another life.

  • Bill: What?

  • Brian: It's all coming back to me: I used to mop the floors here in a previous life!

See, gang: That's the sort of conversation that you seldom hear from a votary of the reincarnation sect -- yet if reincarnation is true, you'd think that such unflattering flashbacks would have to outnumber the flattering ones at least 10 to 1!

And if you think that incident begs some serious questions about the plausibility (not to mention the desirability) of reincarnation, check out the rest of the above conversation:

  • Brian: Hey, hold on a minute.

  • Bill: Now what?

  • Brian: You see that guy behind the counter with the tie -- the apparent manager or whatever?

  • Bill: Yes.

  • Brian: I somehow just KNOW that he was my boss in that former life I mentioned.

  • Bill: What?

  • Brian: In fact, he used to really crack the whip as I recall -- and -- and he never paid me the required overtime either, now that I think about it. Yes, I see it all!

  • Bill: Hey, where are you going?

  • Brian: Out of the way, please, people: Me and this manager fellow at the counter here have some old business to discuss. Remember me, Captain Bligh? Eh? Eh?

Reincarnation tee shirt, says, Reincarnation is for Hasbeens -- buy now!

See what I'm saying, gang -- or at least what I'm implying? If folks really did start to clearly recall the details of unflattering and problematic past lives in this way, flashback-driven contretemps of this kind would be happening all the time.

Methinks I hear the following representative conversation coming even now from yon office building across the street (that one over there: yon! yon!):

"Wait a minute, I remember YOU! You were the guy who FIRED ME from this firm in a past life! And now it seems that I am YOUR boss in this one! Mouhahahaha! Don't worry, that doesn't mean that I will necessarily fire you in return... or DOES IT? Mouhahahahaha!"

No, seriously, reincarnation is great: Have you seen the new bumper sticker on the back of those old beat-up Camaro's and the like:

"I drove a Model-T Ford in my former life."

Or, more impressive yet:

"I drove a chariot of fire in my former life."

Yes, sir, reincarnation: You gotta love it.


That's right: Whoo-hoo! You know it, sir.

Of course, what I'm wondering is, has anybody ever had a flashback and suddenly realized beyond a shadow of a filial doubt that they used to be their very own grandfather!

People are like, "Son, you are just like your grandfather!"

And the son's like, "More than you know, pops: More than you freakin' know."

Relax, folks, I'm not here to shatter anyone's quaint beliefs in reincarnation. (Aww! You guys are just so PRECIOUS with that stuff!) Still, you've got to admit, that philosophy does raise a lot of questions.

Look at the dude back there by the coat rack, scowling over his bowl of nachos: He's like: "I don't care WHAT he says, I was Napoleon in my past life."

Dude, I believe you. The only problem is, I myself was Wellington in MY previous life. Aha! So we meet again! It's you and me, fella, hand-to-hand combat, in the back alley after the show!

What's that, Sir, you weren't Napoleon, you were Little Richard?

I don't think that's even allowed: First of all, I don't believe that he's dead yet -- and even if he were, you can't be a reincarnation of someone whose original lifetime was at any time coterminous with your own. (I believe you'll find that as bylaw 1-1-8 of the Reincarnation Rule Book.)

No, seriously:

But like I says, feel free to hold on to your charming homespun beliefs in reincarnation (I say again, aww! and even double aww!).

Still, consider this while you're finding your coats and settling your bills (insofar as this lounge will be closing immediately after my performance tonight. Yes, I know: It's sad, isn't it? But thanks for coming. I'm here through Thursday, by the way, so don't be a stranger.)

Suppose that I'm, say, 25 years old, and I somehow find out that a man who killed me in my past life has just been born into this one.

Now what do I do? It's not like I can exact vengeance on a newborn, after all!

Still, I'd naturally want to teach the erstwhile murderer a lesson at SOME point. Hmm... I guess I'd have to be content with sending the family a note, advising them that their newborn was now officially challenged to a duel on his 18th birthday.

Even that solution is problematic however, since my young nemesis would then have 18 long years to prepare for the grudge match that I've scheduled (21 years even, if he happens to reside in a state with conservative laws about such arrangements), so that when the day finally came, I'd find myself in my dotage squaring off against a regular Zorro in his prime of fencing life.

He'd be like, "En garde!"

And I'd be like: "Um, do me a favor and remind me: WHY am I fighting you, sonny boy?"
reincarnation, hasbeens

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Curtis White's arch-relativism

The Science Delusion Disappointment

I was thrilled to start reading Curtis' White new book entitled "The Science Delusion" -- there's so much to be said -- and then...

Here, I'll tell you what: I'll show you a copy of the e-mail that I just sent Prof Curtis on the subject.

I was enjoying your book Science Delusion until you brought up the use of drones in the war on terror as a supposed slam-dunk example of brutality. According to that logic, if police come to shoot up a house full of holed-up thugs, then we all have to ask ourselves, "How would I feel if MY house were shot up?" Pardon me, but I find that absurd. You yourself said the Taliban would get right back to the business of cutting off ears if we weren't buzzing them with drones. Why is it the devil's business these days to protect oneself? You seem to be operating under an a priori assumption that power itself is bad. Yes there is much to worry about -- that weapons could be used against their makers -- but that is a separate question from the morality of their intended use. When someone calls the police and is being mugged, I care about the victim -- you seem to care more about the innocent civilians that the policeman may accidentally run off the road en route to the scene of the crime. Sure that's important, too, and we SHOULD care about them too -- but it doesn't mean the policeman is any less of a hero for trying to help!! Sorry, but I have heard this kind of Evil America argument ad nauseam since 9-11 and I have NEVER understood it.

Oh, yeah, and my follow-up minutes later... (Hey, I had to get this out my system, no?)

Sorry, Curtis, I promise this is my last unsolicited e-mail to you... but one final note: As far as collateral victims are concerned, surely we can reserve a little animus for the thugs whose stated intention is death (to America) and who, despite having openly declared war on the U.S., choose to risk the lives of their family members by living amongst them. It always drove me nuts during the Iraq war when madmen would blow up children (often while they were receiving candy or school supplies from Marines) and 100% of the world's anger about the incident (at least as reported by the American press) would turn toward the U.S. -- 100% -- thus essentially confirming for the madmen their right to perform such atrocities -- as who should say, "The whole world agrees with us." If the world had had any true morality, it would have rushed in after all that child killing, saying, "Enough is enough: we didn't agree with the original invasion, but this is going to stop now!" -- but the world's more important goal was to say "I told you so" to George Bush. Maybe the invasion was mistimed, mismanaged -- but did critics ever stop to think that rubbing Bush's nose in it could only be done at the expense of a body count?

The Author Speaks

Why were you so disappointed by what you call Curtis White's "pot-shot" at U.S. drone policy?

There are two main reasons: 1) First, his radical position on the issue, making U.S. out to be a bullying Rome, is an interesting topic -- but it's not the topic of his "Science Book" and since it's not something that average readers are going to accept as a given truth based on a few sentences (no matter how impassioned those sentences may be), he should not distract from his book's thesis to harp on this apparent pet peeve of his.

2) But the truly frustrating part is that Curtis White, despite being irritatingly off-topic, does have a point -- but he's put such a dogmatic partisan spin on that point that his ax-grinding hyperbole obscures the real issues of the subject thus (untimely) raised. Moreover, this point, properly expressed, would have gone far toward substantiating the real thesis of his book, that science is not -- and should not be -- the only way of looking at the world.

After all, science and the scientific way of viewing the world has facilitated (one might almost say inevitably led to) the production of weapons that could very well one day be used against their creators: That's a worrisome point indeed. (The world was nearly hoisted with its own nuclear petard on September 26, 1983, when a false positive on a Russian radar screen almost precipitated World War III.) Unfortunately, it's not the point that White is making: Instead, White is impugning the motives of those who use drones, putting American soldiers dedicated to democratic principles on an ethical par with Taliban hardliners who explicitly have announced their belief in terrorizing and murdering all their opponents. White's is a cynical morality that denies the existence of good guys. It's the philosophy of "whatever" and it says the following:

If they want to decapitate Christians and keep women in veils and out of schools, surely that's their choice. Anyway, it's none of OUR business.
relativism, science, delusion

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When it comes to the controversy about online copyright law, Google has a conflict of interest, since it both facilitates the discussion while taking a definite side in it.

Conflict of Interest: Google and copyright law

The following comment was posted online on 7/19/2014 in response to an article in Science News by Bruce Bower entitled: Online Causes May Attract More Clicks Than Comments

Fascinating article. I have one bone to pick, however. The article concludes by holding up the online protest movement against copyright legislation as a sort of pure, unadulterated victory for online activism. Such a representation, however, should come with a major caveat: namely, the fact that Google -- the company that, more than any other, determines the very "findability" of online content -- was founded on a liberal interpretation of the copyright laws and thus has a vested interest in facilitating (if not actively promoting) such an interpretation online. With such a bias existing in the very operators of the search engine par excellence, Google opponents can never be sure that Google search algorithms, ad placement choices (etc.) are giving a fair shake to both sides of the argument when it comes to online visibility. In short, Google has a conflict of interest in that it both facilitates the online discussion and takes a definite side in it.

In fact, the search giant is expressing its own viewpoint on this subject every time it melodramatically replaces a DCMA-challenged link with a link to the clearly partisan "Chilling Effects" project, instead of, say, simply linking the searcher to a forum wherein the online copyright law controversy may be discussed by stakeholders on every side of the issue, even by those who disagree that a "chilling effect" is necessarily involved in enforcing reasonable copyright law. Of course the effect of stricter copyright enforcement may indeed be chilling to a company that has made billions of dollars based on the informal status quo, but that fact is irrelevant to a consideration of the merits of stricter enforcement. The goal of copyright law, after all, is to protect creators, not to help Google continue with business as usual.

For further study

Critics have said that the preceding paragraph could stand some "serious editing." Explain. (Hint: what's with the unnecessary repetition of the word "link"???)

For still further study

Critics have said that Brian could have simply corrected the preceding paragraph but one, instead of writing a "for further study" question to address the editorial lacuna in question. Explain.

Did you know?

Science News still makes me purchase a subscription to their website even though I've been a longtime subscriber to their podcast. They claim that they can't give me a break because Amazon.com/Audible will not furnish them with podcast subscriber lists. Crazy, huh -- not to mention downright unfair. I mean, subscribers to the written journal don't have to pay a separate fee to access the Science News website -- making we podcast blokes second-class Netoyens. (What? I'm just sayin'....)
goggle, copyright law, dcma, chilling effects

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Author reveals the ingratitude and hypocrisy of President Obama's contention that America is not exceptional.

Remedial Patriotism 101

Monday, June 30, 2014

In his new book entitled "Inventing Freedom," British politician Daniel Hannan recounts how President Obama was asked by a reporter if he considered America to be an exceptional country in any way. After momentarily pausing to reflect, the president responded that, yes, he does consider America to be special, but then he quickly added that he is sure that a citizen of Greece would feel the same way about his or her own country. In other words, no, America isn't really such hot stuff -- though naturally every nation would like to think that it is.

Consider the irony of that response. The proof of American exceptionalism lies in his very answer.

Never in the history of the world has a head of state adopted such a modest point of view in answering such a question. His answer is perhaps the ultimate expression of the uniquely American value of tolerance, an attitude toward the world that would not have been conceivable today except in the context of the Founding Fathers' insistence on freedom of conscience. Unfortunately, this is tolerance to a fault, because to say that America is NOT special is to ungratefully ignore the efforts of the thinkers and warriors who gave the president his freedom and his tolerance in the first place. To say that America is NOT special is thus to say that freedom and tolerance itself are not special, that progress toward ever greater freedom is not special, that respect of the individual is not special. To say that America is not special is thus the ultimate argument ad absurdum, because it puts America on a par with the rest of the often evil world, thus expressing tolerance for the intolerable, of people, systems and situations that are not morally worthy of our tolerance.

When the Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, in the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, the signatories did not consider the set of principles that it contained to be just one of many acceptable philosophical starting points for nationhood, as if a military coup or the establishment of a monarchy might have "done the trick" just as easily. To the contrary, their credo was so radical and unique that the 56 men who signed it knew that they were risking their lives by doing so. Indeed nine of the 56 did eventually make "the ultimate sacrifice" on behalf of their profession of faith in the importance of "government of the people, by the people, and for the people." This sacrifice on their part didn't merely help facilitate yet another experiment in statecraft: to the contrary, their principled stand set the philosophical groundwork for a series of liberty-affirming events that, over the next 250 years, would not only free America's slaves and educate their descendents, but would even open minds and hearts to the point that, in November 2008, they would decisively elect a citizen of African descent to the highest office in the land.

Listen to author's Jazz Waltz version of the Star Spangled Banner, America's national anthem.
obama, patriotism, american exceptionalism, daniel hannan, declaration of independence, inventing freedom

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Author denounces the illogical and divisive American racial classifications of "black" and "white" and traces their origins to the bigoted "one drop theory" of Southern slaveholders

Charles Rangel is WHITE! Pass it on!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Psst! Hey, fellow Americans, I hate to break this to you guys, but, uh...

Announcing the mother of all inconvenient truths: Charles Rangel, Naomi Campbell, and Halle Berry are WHITE!

I kid you not.

Only a racially screwed-up world could have failed to notice this fact long ago.

Why? Because their genetic DNA inheritance is more of European than of African provenance.

After all, if we insist on using this polar terminology of "black" and "white" to classify Americans, then logic dictates that those with majority European genetic ancestry be labeled as White (regardless of their precise skin color) and those of majority African genetic ancestry be labeled as "black" (again regardless of precise skin color).

To do otherwise is to tacitly accept the "one drop" theory of Southern slave owners, according to whom there was only "colored" and "white" -- and that "one drop" of "black blood" made you (presto change-o!) black!

Some American has got to take the first step in rejecting the flawed racial classifications, so I've decided to begin the process here and now by personally taking this opportunity to publicly welcome Charles and co. to the "White" race! I'm sure I speak for all of us (well, for MANY of us!) when I say, glad to have ya, guys! Jeepers! Now, give us a hug!

Now then, if Charles and co. want to decline membership and remain "black" merely on principle, more power to them -- but in that case, I too claim the right, in all seriousness, to henceforth call MYSELF black and to be considered and treated as fully black too (without any smirking behind my technically Caucasian back!) -- even though my DNA inheritance (to the best of my knowledge) has nothing but the remotest links with the Mother Continent of Africa.


What thick ideological blinders this country is wearing to think for one second that "black" and "white" remain anything but divisive constructs given the vast and ever-widening palette of skin colors in 21st-century America.

Unfortunately, 21st-century America seems to have embraced "separate but equal," as the "black" network programming continues to feature every hue under the rainbow -- except, alas, for perceived "purebreds" (or "bluebloods"?) like myself. No, they won't let Rudolphs like myself join in any of the multicultural reindeer games.

What massive irony that "black" American television executives, judging by their near total exclusion of perceived "pure whites" from their otherwise rainbow colored lineup, are so firmly embracing the Southern slaveholders' definition of blackness as describing anyone who is not "all white."

Thus America remains divided by a classification scheme erected by ignorant bigots -- and when I challenge the hypocrisy of the millions of self-described "liberals" who maintain this status quo today, they take refuge in feel-good maxims of identity politics, reaffirming the exclusivity of the 'brotherhood' franchise as not including 'whites,' thus basically telling me, when all the bluster is over:

"Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever."

Hmm. Where have I heard that before?

Introducing America's New White People!

In order to illustrate his point about the absurdity of the outdated polar racial categories of "black" and "white," the author hereby welcomes the following prominent Americans (heretofore considered "black") into his own "white" race.

If there be any whites amongst us who object to these invitations, let them speak now so that we can know who the bigots really are. If the nominees themselves complain, they are welcome to reject my offer of "whitehood". However, in that case, I get to be black, too, doggone it! (I've traced my own ancestry back 50,000 years, folks, and guess what: I came from Africa, too, guys! Humph!)

  1. Halle Berry

  2. Mariah Carey

  3. Charles Rangel

  4. Tiger Woods (Since Tiger has been smart enough to reject the imprecise and pigeonholing classification of 'black', I will not presume to list him here and thus saddle him with the equally imprecise and pigeonholing classification of 'white')

race relations, miscegenation, one-drop theory, southern slaveholders, black, white, charles rangel, naomi campbell, halle berry

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Brian asks Spike Lee for Jeff Bezos' street address in order to protest the way that Amazon.com recently tricked said blogger into purchasing a teeny-tiny watering can (instead of the full-size watering can that he was obviously expecting)

Getting Amazon to Do the Right Thing

Frydog, Joon 27, 2014

Let's see, it's got to be here somewhere.

Oh, hi, folks. Brian Ballard at your service. I'm just checking the local rag in search of the latest religious edicts by the Right Honorable Spike Lee. I'm hoping he's going to give out the current street address of Jeff Bezos so that I can take up an indignant perch on that guy's front stoop in protest of the lousy customer service that I received lately at Amazon.com.

Yeah, I ordered a watering pot, assuming that a search for "watering pots" on Amazon.com would bring up real, honest-to-goodness "watering pots." Well, when the box arrived, I discovered that this $13 pot of mine was a cheap plastic miniature that was no bigger than my right hand -- which by this time was naturally in the shape of a fist, ready to bust heads (figuratively speaking, of course) in Seattle, Washington.

More coffee please, Minnie. (My new housemaid, ladies and gentlemen: Minnie Goodfeather from Maid to Order. Not only does she do windows, but she comes with a full moneyback guarantee. That's right: If I'm not fully satisfied with her, I can ship her back to the company merely by affixing this pre-paid mailing label to her forehead and then flagging down the next UPS truck that I see -- OR FedEx truck: the choice is totally up to me! And she comes with a complete set of skimpy garments: today she's gone with the rosy-cheeked milkmaid ensemble. Ja, Fraulein.)

Let's see: Maybe if I look under "fatwa."

I'll tell you what, while I keep searching for a street address whereat to exact my old-school vengeance on Jeff Bezos (ooh, you dirty rat! you dirty rat!), let me bring you up to date on my Amazon problem through the magic of cut-and-paste technology. What follows is the actual complaint that I posted at Amazon in the comment product section for the microscopic plastic trinket that they foisted upon me under the somewhat grandiloquent appellation of "watering can." Not only should the following copy bring you guys up to speed, but it will ensure that the details of my complaint will still have a place online after Amazon takes the no-doubt inevitable step of removing my product-related jeremiad from the product's comment section. (To paraphrase Al Pacino: "You're out of order! They're out of order! He, she and it are out of order! Why, bless me: the whole Amazon.com algorithm system is out of order!")


When I purchased this product, it came up IMMEDIATELY under the search term "watering can" and it looked ENORMOUS (and I do not recall the term "miniature" appearing in the description). Now that I have received this MINISCULE watering can, I can no longer bring the item up using Amazon search. I wanted to double-check how the product was listed and displayed so that I could figure out how they bamboozled me (intentionally or not) into buying it. I'm a veteran Amazon shopper after all, and I've never been misled like this before. It looks like a case of bait-and-switch to me -- or rather bait-and-REMOVE-the product from the search listings.

Whatever the explanation is, SAVE your money. I'm sure you could buy 12 of these for the same price at any Dollar Store. (Although the object may be miniature, the price was not.)

Finally, a note to Amazon: If you're going to list MINIATURE items inside a list of REGULARLY SIZED items, please display the miniature items beside a picture of an object of known size (such as an American quarter) so that purchasers won't assume that it's a normal sized version of the object that they were looking to buy.


One additional note. I was misled into purchasing this item in the following way:

Prior to searching for "watering can," I had been searching for miniature items to decorate a train layout. Although my subsequent unrelated search for "watering can" did NOT include the term "miniature," Amazon's overly ambitious algorithms decided that I would probably be interested in a miniature watering can -- so they scrambled in this miniature item on a page otherwise full of regularly sized watering cans. And since I figured that a watering can was a watering can, it never occurred to me to read the fine print to see how many teaspoons that this particular watering can I'd chosen might hold.

When I called to complain, I was basically told that the algorithms generally work very well.

And I'm like: Well, they may work well for Amazon, but then it's not Amazon that just lost $13. (Actually, Amazon is going to lose hundreds if not thousands of dollars thanks to this problem, since I've begun paring back my Amazon purchases in response to the cavalier attitude that the company adopted when responding to my complaint.)

Then when I complained about the ambiguous product picture (which gave no idea of the product's size), the Amazon image department (with irritating speediness) fired back with an e-mail saying that the picture looked just fine to them, thank you very much.

But they were missing the point: the image itself WOULD be fine if it appeared on a page of miniatures, -- but it's a misleading product representation when such an image appears on a page of otherwise REGULARLY SIZED watering cans.

I pleaded with the customer service rep to pass my complaint on to the algorithm programmers, who were the ones that were truly at fault here -- but she didn't sound very interested in doing so. (She gave one the impression that the algorithm programmers were some distant demigods that, as a rule, take no particular interest in the affairs of mortal men, customers included, and that I might as well ask her to contact Zeus -- er, Jeff Bezos -- himself as to contact these mysterious free agents who rule invisibly from on high.)

Just another case of human beings being forced to adjust to the way that software and code works (or in this case doesn't work) -- rather than the other way around.

(I even tried to contact the product manufacturer called (weirdly enough) "Ebertsankey" to tell them how they are (albeit unwittingly) making sales based on Amazon misrepresentation, but it turns out that the company's Website is available only in German and Dutch, neither of which language I know -- and besides, I'm having a hard enough time getting folks to respond to my complaint in English.)
amazon.com, spike lee, jeff bezos, algorithms

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My response to An Image is Worth What Again? by David Newhoff, June 2014.

Image is everything

Toozdog, Joon 24, 2014

The following is my response to an article linked to in the ASCAP Dean's List for June 24, 2014

Thanks for the interesting (if worrisome) article, David. Although I agree completely with the need to respect the copyrighted status of online photographs, I think it's getting harder to fault individuals for infringing (or for "paying short shrift") to copyrights when Google sets such a bad example.

I just read an article by a "copyright expert" (on WTOP.com) who sternly lectured his readership that every image online should be considered copyrighted and, no, you should not use any image without the explicit permission of the copyright owner. I immediately wrote back to say: "Hmm. It seems to me that one of the biggest companies in the world (Google) is doing just that." I went on to insist that I (as an American citizen), should be able to avail myself of the self-same latitude as Google (an American company) in interpreting copyright law requirements.

As much as I appreciate the need for copyright law, there's something hypocritical-sounding these days in such warnings on the subject because they routinely ignore the blatant activity of the 500-pound gorilla in the room: namely Google. Thus, whenever I read such copyright lectures online, I always hear a subtext telling me: "Of course these rules only apply to ordinary people like yourself and not to billionaire corporations like Google."

And if I feel this way as a supporter of copyright law, it's a cinch that a less principled user will consider Google's cavalier behavior in this area to be a green light for universal piracy.

Personally, I think Google got it right (more or less) the first time, by indexing images as thumbnails while clearly and directly linking those images back to their source pages. The fact that they are now "running interference" between the thumbnail and the source (and thus obfuscating the identity of the image creators) suggests that they have lost track of the most important rationale of their original image results layout -- namely, the legal one -- and have now decided that "user experience" and aesthetics (not to mention Google's "bottom line") should trump what they apparently consider to be legal niceties -- but what in reality are basic personal property rights of longstanding over which they are trying (so far successfully) to erect a makeshift technological hurdle.
david newhoff, images, google, copyright

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My thank-you note to British MP Daniel Hannan for the new must-read for Pastor Wright: Inventing Freedom

Inventing Freedom

Thirzdoy, Joon 19, 2014

The following is a copy of the e-mail that I have just sent to British MP Daniel Hannan in praise of his new book entitled "Inventing Freedom."

Thank you, Daniel, for an informative (if somewhat depressing) book in "Inventing Freedom."

It saddens and worries me to have a president who finds nothing special in America, let alone in Great Britain. I can only hope that this is an aberration that will be corrected in the next election.

I can particularly relate to your comments about the efforts of NGO's to bypass the will of local electorates. Back in 2009, I watched video outtakes from the Climate Conference in Copenhagen and I was shocked by the anti-Western (and particularly anti-American) sentiments that were expressed there, and the great deal of pressure that the American contingent was apparently under to "do something there and then" (above all, to commit large sums of money to the cause) -- as if simple voters like myself back in the states were suddenly (without fanfare or warning) under the rule of unknown foreign bureaucrats, whose only qualification to govern was their indignant sense of personal infallibility on the issues of the day, as if my money as an American taxpayer could be spent without the formality of even telling me (let alone asking me) about it. And then, of course, there was the hypocrisy of the Third World in demanding billions from the West for the global warming troubles that we've supposedly already foisted upon them -- as if the leaders of those countries had long ago renounced the products of Western industry (automobiles, cell phones, modern drugs, etc.) in favor of a spartan existence that we ever-busy Westerners just won't let them live in peace. (If extortionist demands are ever in order, it is the West that should be demanding billions from those same Third World countries for having already squandered billions in aid without noticeably having raised the living standard of their still poverty-mired populations.)

It's nice, however, to know that there are leaders like yourself who are still mindful of the Anglosphere's extraordinary history and the need to build upon its literally unique foundations -- rather than to trendily emulate the emphatically failed models of Marxism, Socialism, and all the other political models that are rooted in jealousy, victimhood, and division.

So thanks again for the fascinating book, Daniel, and best wishes from America!

Editor's note: Few people realize this (only two, in fact, including myself: complete list available upon request), but I grew up with Pastor Wright. I kid you not. We used to tool around Chicago in my daddy's '67 Corvette: an L88 Stingray, to be precise, complete with the iconic Marlboro maroon paint job. (I recently unloaded it for a cool 3 mil at Mecum's Dallas sports car auction -- Pastor's gonna kill me when he finds out -- we both have memories invested in that old bucket.) Even back then, Pastor was all about, "America ain't this, America ain't that," and I'm like, "Dude, where did go to school anyway, some eastern Pakistani madrassa? Lighten up already -- if only on behalf of the millions of Americans who have died for your freedom to vent like that!"

He's like a certain sibling of mine: She won't even stand (literally or figuratively speaking) for the "pledge of allegiance." And I'm like: Aren't you in favor of liberty and justice for all? I'm like: Pledging allegiance to those principles is not the same as saying Zieg Heil, you know. I mean, jeepers creepers already!

I mean, I don't want to resurrect the House Un-American Activities Committee, but the first time I heard Pastor Wright throw down on America, I had a good mind to call his former elementary school teachers before some televised Capitol Hill commission to ask them just what they've been teaching their kids all these years. I can see it now:

  • Me: Now, Mrs. Crabapple, you were Pastor Wright's 3rd Grade History teacher, is that correct?

  • Mrs. C.: Yes, sir.

  • Me: I don't see any American history course listed on your resume, madam.

  • Mrs. C.: Oh, the course wasn't exactly called "American History," Senator.

  • Me: No? What was it called then?

  • Mrs. C.: I believe the title of that course was, uh...

  • Me: Yes, ma'am?

  • Mrs. C.: Beggin' your pardon, Senator, but we used to call it "Rise of the Great Satan."

  • Me: Oh, I see. "Rise of the Great Satan." Of course. Now... [Pregnant pause, then suddenly...] Elizabeth, I'm a-comin' to join ya!"

Anyway, I was like, "Check yourself down, homes. If you want to be a preacher, you've got to love your enemies, you know?"

And the future Pastor Wright would be like: "Love THIS!" and gives me this grade-A noogie right in my right shoulder -- meanwhile I'm driving, trying not to run off the road, sometimes from laughter, sometimes from pure ideological consternation. (That's right: El W was a proper caution even way back then!)

inventing freedom, daniel hannan, ngo, anglosphere, pastor wright

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Wanted: Intelligent reader. Must be willing and able to appreciate the numerous trenchant (if sometimes almost exquisitely subtle) social indictments implicit in the following classified advertisement spoofs.

Job Listings for the 21st Century

Soondoy, Joon 15, 2014

CHIEF STRATEGIST FOR SILICON VALLEY SOFTWARE FIRM. Will aggressively identify new analog-based markets that can be lucratively 'disrupted' with simple I.T. solutions. Ideal candidate will evince complete indifference to any social upheaval attendant upon his or her recommendations, including but not limited to wide-scale unemployment, lopsided distribution of wealth, and more misguided and potentially violent picketing of the IMF in Seattle by confused Americans who don't realize that WE are the ones putting them out of work and giving Capitalism itself a bad name. Cocksure candidates only, please. Pay commensurate with greed.

IRS HIRING! ALL POSITIONS OPEN. Must be willing and able to confuse the living bejezus out of Americans and put them in tacit fear of retaliation if they don't successfully jump through a long series of arbitrary computational hoops, any one of which might cause a number-crunching Evel Knievel to bite the dust, or even to throw down his motorcycle in disgust and shout, "Oh, I give up!" Candidates will demonstrate a breezy indifference to personal liberty and have a demonstrated history of staunchly supporting the current status quo. Supporters of a so-called "flat tax" scheme (or any similarly fanciful so-called "fair tax" arrangement) need not apply. (In fact, they need not even bother opening their mouths in public insofar as the continued growth of our agency in size and power depends upon us crushing them financially -- or, failing that, we'll set them up for a 'random' audit to remind them who's running the show here. Fair tax, indeed! In a modern democracy? Have you ever heard the like?! Humph!)

DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENT WANTED. Successful candidate will repeatedly play the victimhood card while acknowledging nothing remarkable in American history and its emphasis on individual liberty and property rights. Must show a marked preference for European bureaucracy, debt and grievance politics, over local governance, thrift and compromise. Must be willing and able to cram laws down the throats of the opposition without so much as winning one single adherent from amongst the naysayers. Must have a demonstrated history of sitting back and saying nothing (except perhaps for blaming his or her own country) whenever insane Islamists blow up Iraqi children while they're in the process of receiving free books and candy from U.S. Army troops.

NGO: ALL POSITIONS: Must show disdain for local governance and an ability to override the will of popularly elected assemblies in foreign countries by enacting bureaucratic international laws that manufacture one's own jurisdictional authority out of whole cloth. Must have a pro-regulation mentality and be willing to raise massive debts without regard for the economic problems that this may cause for future generations. Must be ready and able to redistribute wealth -- although the successful candidate need not know how to create such wealth in the first place. Must be willing and able to censor hate speech -- except, of course, when the speech in question is directed against one's own ideological enemies: namely 'shopkeepers' and other bourgeois reactionary scum.
job listings, parody, spoof

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How "Moral Kombat," Spencer Halpin's documentary on American violence, ignored the 800-pound gorilla in the room: namely, the decisive role of gun availability in creating today's deadly dystopia.

Moral Kombat

How Spencer Halpin's documentary misses the point about American violence

June 12, 2014: Letter to Henry Jenkins, director of the MIT Center for Civic Media

Good afternoon, Henry,

I am a 55-year-old philosophy major and amateur culture critic from Virginia with a few thoughts to share with you about the Spencer Halpin film "Moral Kombat" that I saw for the first time last night. To be honest with you, I was originally planning to share my first comments on the film with Spencer himself, but as is so often the case when attempting to contact successful people online, I am having significant difficulty tracking down a valid e-mail address for Spencer -- without, that is, engaging the (ahem) "free" services of some dubious-sounding e-mail locating company. So I decided I'd share my thoughts with one of the film's most sensible-sounding talking heads -- which, incidentally, started me on yet another worrisome e-mail hunt, until I got smart and expanded my search to the MIT Center that you direct. True, I still haven't located your e-mail address, but I trust that someone will bring this form-submitted comment of mine to your attention.

Let me preface by saying that I believe Spencer Halpin's film is visually engaging and full of fantastic insights, but....

To the extent that the documentary is a response to teen gun violence, I believe that it is, unwittingly, a work of magician-like misdirection. The short shrift paid to the role of guns themselves in the lamented violence suggests to me that the producers have largely accepted the American social (and above all political) assumption that teen massacres like Columbine can be (at least in theory) meaningfully responded to and (again ideally) prevented without any discussion of guns and (above all) of their widespread availability. Once these "willful" blinders are adopted by discussion participants, the question then necessarily becomes: What is causing our youths to get so darn upset and how do we go about making them peaceable, law-abiding citizens?

This, of course, is an absurd question because it assumes that school massacres can't stop until we find a way to stop young people from getting furious! Talk about a tall order! No wonder then that critics begin to attack the gaming industry with various levels of vitriol. All the anger that they should logically have directed toward the NRA has to go somewhere: and the gaming community is an easy replacement target.

I'm an uncle -- and I vividly remember some of the temper tantrums of a certain nephew of mine when he was in his terrible twos, threes and fours. I was always in awe of the seemingly primordial fierceness of his displays, because it seemed to me like "fury itself" was incarnated in his incredibly vehement demonstrations. I remember thinking at the time: "My God, if this kid had a machine-gun right now, he would blow every single one of us to absolute bits!"

Now then, to get to the point of this digression: Let's imagine that every young child did, in fact, have easy access to light-weight machine-guns and that a massacre of the kind I mention were to actually occur:

I can hear the clueless politicians now: "We've got to find a way to stop toddlers from getting upset!"

Suddenly there would be public hearings in which Sesame Street would be told to do more sketches about "getting along" and to stop the Grouch from being so grouchy.

I hope you see my point, Henry: To me, teens and toddlers are always going to get absolutely furious -- and some teens at least will actually plot revenge.

The real "game changer" in the American violence equation is the fact that teens of this kind have easy access to guns, guns, and more guns (and not just hunting rifles, either). And I think that any discussion of the situation that doesn't center around that gun availability misses the point -- and plays into the hands of the NRA, who will be happy for politicians to blame anyone or anything but themselves.

Given a free society and the widespread availability of guns to just about anybody, I think it's a miracle that there aren't more school massacres like Columbine. Indeed, this relatively low occurrence could even mean that American youth overall are less violent than ever these days -- but they'll never get credit for that restraint if, in blind deference to the second amendment, we surround them with guns and then sit back and wait for a day when every single one of them will be unwilling to use them inappropriately.

Thanks for your time, Henry!

Brian Quass
Basye, Virginia, USA

Editor's note: As of July 20, 2014, my good friend Henry (a personal friend of mine since the early '70s, by the way, when both of us mop-topped youth enjoyed rafting on the Shenandoah River just south of Harpers Ferry, using one of those shuttle services to bring us back to our car -- well, back to my brother's Jeep, actually) has not yet seen fit to reply to this message of mine. Could it be that my admittedly trenchant concerns expressed above (especially that bit about gun availability being a "game changer") gave that distinguished academician so much pause as to render him completely immobile on this subject, his erstwhile steady right hand (I seem to recall that he was right-handed) hovering tentatively now over a keyboard with which his very fingertips recoiled from engaging, so devastatingly had I unmasked the surprisingly gaping lacuna in Spencer Halpin's otherwise compelling doc?

Editor's note: It's January 11, 2015, and I'm still waiting. (You don't suppose that Henry took umbrage, do you? If so, he can give it right back, because I kept a civil tongue in my head. Humph.)

Editor's increasingly desperate note: It's January 31, 2015, now and Henry continues to fight shy of me. At first I thought that my arguments above might have been faulty, so I re-read them just a minute ago, but I'll be danged if they weren't just as ineluctably convincing to me as ever. Hmm. I wonder what happened? I'm afraid that someone at M.I.T. must have poisoned Henry's mind against me somehow. But then what possible motive could they have had for doing so? Unless they're pissed at me for my recent e-mails to Audible Technology Review (an M.I.T. publication) in which I complain about their editorial policy of occasionally using the pronoun "she" to refer to "he OR she." Well, I'm sorry: I'm like: If HE doesn't mean SHE any longer, why should SHE suddenly mean HE?!

See, kids, this is what happens when one wears one's heart on one's sleeve (or on his or her sleeve): the grammar police swoop down and rat on you to your friends, warning them (no doubt) that you are politically incorrect. Which, if that's the case, Henry, I would have thought that you could pass muster on myself without the busybody intervention of some probably uptight and pedantic grammar junky.

Then again, Cousin Henry's in-box may just plain be bunged up to hell. I'll tell you what: I'll give him another few months before saying so much as one more word about it here.
spencer halpin, henry jenkins, mit, center for civic media, violence, guns, nra

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Subscription fee double jeopardy at Scientific American


Sadderday, Joon 7, 2014

What follows is an (admittedly) charming letter that your humble correspondent (moi) indited today on behalf of reason and common sense. (Ahh!) Its intended recipient: the Scientific American website, which (and I'm embarrassed to have to say this about them, truly) tried to make me pay to read an online article today, even though I had already bought an entire year's worth of their S.A. podcasts through Audible.com. And I was like: Not only am I not going to pay to jump through that hoop, darlings -- but I'll cancel the whole #@$! podcast before forking over such an obviously gratuitously invoked "gotcha" payment as that.

But soft, you shall read....

I am disappointed to see that you do not make Scientific American articles available online for free to Scientific American podcast subscribers like myself. I subscribe also to Science News, where I have always been able to access articles that I hear in their podcast. If your goal is to make money, for me personally, it doesn't work: I am more likely to cancel my podcast subscription than pay a fee that strikes me as a little greedy on your part.

If you can't afford to "give away" the text to podcast subscribers, I suggest you raise the price of your podcasts -- rather than surprise subscribers like myself with another "gotcha" payment demand for actually seeing the text. There's so many "gotchas" of this kind online, where Web operators seek to cajole every last penny out of their site visitors: I'm sorry to see that this "gotcha" mentality has been adopted by a scientific publication of your stature.

What Do YOU Think?

Imagine that YOU had already forked over 40+ American bucks to listen to a magazine podcast and that your subsequent visit to the related website revealed that the editors in question were determined to stiff you for yet another 5 or so, before they would allow you to so much as clap eyes on the very text that you had already paid to hear? You wouldn't like it very much, would ya? Well, okay, then! That's all I'm sayin'.
scientific american, subscribers

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In response to 'Cloud Seeding' by Bernard Vonnegut, in the June 2014 edition of Scientific American

Rain, Rain, Go Away

Soggyday, Joon 7, 2014

The otherwise excellent "Cloud Seeding"* article completely overlooks one important issue: What happens to the 'meteorological rights' of 'non-farmers' if and when cloud seeding starts to become dramatically successful, so as to turn heretofore merely overcast days into steady rain events?

I live in the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, which, though a fertile region for farmers, receives significantly less rainfall than is received both to its east (the Tidewater region) and to its west (West Virginia). If cloud seeding begins to have dramatic and undeniable results, the Valley farmers involved in land cultivation will soon be clamoring for "more rain. "

This begs the question: What rights (if any) do I have as a Shenandoah Valley resident who was happy with the local weather as it was?

No doubt there are cloud-seeding efforts going on in the Valley even as I type this comment, but it's one thing for me to tolerate such small-scale weather-changing attempts, especially when the results remain equivocal: but I'm going to start feeling like a neglected constituency if and when entire regional weather patterns start changing (for the soggier) without my having even been consulted on the matter.

*Scientific American 2014
Bernard Vonnegut
rain, cloud seeding, bernard vonnegut, scientific american

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The Western World P.R. Handicap

Thorsyad, Maize 29, 2014

There is a major phenomenon in play in today's international politics that has thus far escaped the explicit notice of talking heads and news outlets. I call the phenomenon "The Western World P.R. Handicap," which I define as follows:

Western World P.R. Handicap: The public relations handicap experienced by any free country that attempts to confront a despotic leader in a closed society. The handicap is created by the fact that the free country, by definition, tolerates opinions that are at odds with its government's own foreign policy, while the despot not only tolerates no dissent whatsoever, but can even fortify his own hardline position by prominently citing distinguished members of his own enemy, namely, those free citizens in the enemy camp who are exercising their anti-government freedom of speech.

Thus there is an inherently unlevel playing field involved when it comes to international P.R. battles between closed societies and free ones.

The despot in a closed society can win the international public relations battle merely by sitting back and letting his enemies exercise their free speech (in op-ed pieces, advertising campaigns, and even SNL sketches -- see, for instance, the 'Weekend Update' sketch that dubiously equated Putin's Crimea invasion with the U.S. invasion of Iraq) and then picking and choosing which arguments to parrot back to the free world in his own disingenuous defense, thereby implying that, "See? Even YOU think I'm right," thus changing the subject of the international discourse from the despot's own perfidy to the free world's supposed hypocrisy in condemning it.

This is the Western World P.R. Handicap.

Although I do not recommend the curtailing of free speech in light of this handicap, I do think that we need to take explicit notice of the phenomenon -- of the fact that the international public relations deck is always stacked in favor of despots -- before we let such despots hypocritically adduce the protests of a free citizenry in defense of their own emphatically unfree nations.

This phenomenon also suggests that protestors, despite their legal rights, have a moral responsibility to word their complaints in a way that does not inadvertently support such despots. One does not need to modify their opinions to do this: merely to append to those opinions a chastisement of the despot concerned, as who should say: "Yes, we're against our own government's policy, but wipe that smirk off your face, Monsieur le Despot, since we abhor your despotic practices like the rest of the free world and what's more we don't mind telling you!"*

Now those are the words of a TRULY brave protestor.

That said, I'm not going to hold my breath in anticipation of a Morrissey song condemning Islamic violence. Morrissey is strictly a "soft target" idealist: going after those free countries that he can tweak with impunity onstage without subsequently being decapitated live on Al Jazeera television, for Morrissey practices what you might call "Idealism Lite" -- which latter term I hereby also offer to the political dictionaries of the future, in addition to the aforesaid "Western World P.R. handicap."

*To be fair, SNL did something of this kind when it followed its above-mentioned insinuation of American hypocrisy with an hilarious interview of two supposed "Russkis," ("Vladimir's best friends") who, though obviously terrified to criticize Putin aloud, felt safe in doing so when they were speaking in a whisper, albeit their criticisms concerned the Russian leader's apparently atrocious social manners rather than his democratically challenged Cold War geopolitical strategies.

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Google: Organizing the world's data -- in such a way that only Google can profit from it.

Break Up Google

Tossdog, Maize 27, 2014

I recently read an article by an "expert" on copyright law who sternly warned all webmasters and Facebook members that they can't -- repeat: CANNOT -- use any picture whatsoever without permission, lest they incur the wrath of the law -- and that ignorance of said law is no excuse.

Hmm. It seems to me that one of the biggest companies on Earth got where it is today by doing just that. And not only do they not need to get permission -- but, au contraire, the content makers have to ask permission to be excluded from such usage on Google's part -- and it's by no means clear that they're going to get that permission without a court order

I'm sure the "expert" will say that Google's use is somehow different -- but how?

If I create a website, say, about dogs, why shouldn't I be able to display all dog pictures and links on my site -- provided that, like Google, I link to them?

But wait, don't tell me. The law only applies to normal people, right? Not billionaires.

Oh, yeah, sorry, I forgot.


My Washington Post comment on Craig Newman's op-ed piece about the Right to Be Fogotten online:

Newman writes plaintivley that search engines like Google "must also build massive systems to handle removal demands." Awwww! I feel sorry for them. How will they do that with only billions and billions of dollars to work with?

The problem is that Google had already snuck in and monopolized the world's information for FREE long ago before anyone knew -- or cared -- what was going on. Some of us don't think that anyone should have had that monopoly in the first place -- but if they have it, surely that monopoly should come with public responsibilities to the world that created that info in the first place. (See Jason Lanier: "Who Owns the Future?")

Also, Newman's analogy between store directories and Google completely ignores the game-changing instantaneity of the digital world: specifically, the difference between public info that is technically available to anyone (in the analog world by dint of some physical searching on their part) and instantly available and unmissable to anyone (in the digital world by merely typing someone's name in a search engine).

Personally, I think the Washington Post should recuse itself from this entire topic since they are now themselves owned by Big Data in the person of Jeff Bezos, who has monopolized the commercial world as Google has the data world, and who is similarly fighting against paying any social dues or assuming any public responsibilities for that monopolized position.

For Discussion

Some scholars find the author's viewpoint surprising given what they consider to be the general pro-business tenor of his usual declamations. Explain how one can consistently be pro-business while yet hating monopolies, especially one that has actively (so one thinks anyway) buried one's Web pages for almost two decades now under a heap of ad-filled search results -- a company that (in one's respectful opinion, at least) has turned "new" and "novel" into four-letter words, unlike those heady days of the early Alta Vista anything goes Net -- ever since it (Google) went commercial -- which, that was a conflict of interest to begin with (or so one thinks). Just think: the company that stores the world's data begins deciding what gets SEEN according to monetary criteria. Oh, fie! Fie! (Or so one possibly thinks.)

google, monopoly, break up

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Aww! Nicholas Wade is bucking the Zeitgeist! I'm gonna tell!

Awww! I'm Gonna Tell!!!!!

Tussdad, Maize 20, 2014

Awwww! I'm gonna tell! Nicholas Wade is bucking the scientific establishment! Awwww! I'm gonna tell!

Ahem. I'm referring of course to the British journalist from the New York Times who has just published "A Troublesome Inheritance: Genes, Race and Human History."

I'm halfway through reading the same, and I'm loving it. Still, I must confess, I love any new books that intelligently (and above all good-naturedly) take on 'established truths' -- since the Homo sapiens scientificus is not exactly known for his (or even her) open-mindedness.

Heck, the 19th-century Hungarian physician Ignaz Semmelweis merely suggested that surgeons might want to wash their hands prior to operating on their patients -- and his reward was a lifetime supply of industrial-grade Vitriol. ("Got another week's supply here, Iggy! Should I leave it at the door?") Do you know that the man died in an insane asylum at the age of 42? I kid you not. (That will show HIM! The very idea: telling Viennese surgeons how to operate! Humph!)

Hopefully, Wade won't suffer the same fate. But before FedEx wheels around the first big, carefully stoppered bottles of Vitriol to his London flat (Oi, you gotta sign for this stuff, mate!), I thought I'd ask him the following question -- which I posted on the Psychology Today website, where I'm afraid he'll never see it, hence the copy below. (Thank God Wade was already 71 when he published "Troublesome Inheritance." The entrenched scientific community can do their worst now, but they're powerless to cut him off entirely in his prime!)

I'm enjoying your book on the "Troublesome Inheritance". Although I am only halfway through (and this question may be answered before I'm through reading), I was impatient to ask about some of the studies that you reference about 'African-Americans': I'm curious if that term is used scientifically in some sense, since the cultural understanding of the term as applied to mixed-race Americans holds that anyone is African-American who has any noticeable African heritage whatsoever. Thus someone who is 90% European-American, from a genetic point of view, is considered 100% African-American from the cultural point of view. Surely the term 'African-Americans', defined in this way, is not a scientific category at all. So it seems to me that to assume that 'African-Americans' is a self-evident category (as recent scientific studies seem to do) begs a huge question about racial identity in the first place, and thus leaves in doubt any results that are based on such a subjective category.

I'd love to hear what you think about this -- tho' I'll be lucky if this apparently outdated e-mail form even works when I click "submit," let alone that you'll ever actually see these words. I'm afraid that you've reached that level of success at which mere mortals like myself have a terrible time merely reaching you, much less getting your attention! Still, I had to at least try!

Best wishes from Virginia, USA,
Brian Quass
african-american, nicholas wade, race, a troublesome inheritance

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Thus Always to Tyrants

Satteryad, Maize 17, 2014

In Gary Scurka's "Baghdad Bound" documentary, he is puzzled (not to say overtly suspicious) when he enters the capital in 2003 because he discovers that he and his Marines are being almost universally welcomed by the locals. At first he speculates that it's a ruse of some kind, but then he soon reflects that the near universality of the reaction makes that possibility unlikely. Still, he can't make any sense of it: the residents should be furious at the Marines for this uninvited monopoly of their roadways. Right?

I don't know Gary's professed political affiliation, but his perplexity speaks volumes about the cluelessness of liberals* when it comes to the Iraqi invasion. They refuse to accept the fact that most SANE individuals in Iraq DO (did) want freedom, and that life under a dictator is, by definition, NOT freedom. So, yes, the overthrow of a despot is always a good thing. No surprise there. Were this goal achieved by Martians, all sane individuals would be out on the streets, giving "thumbs-up" to these "invaders" of theirs, wherever they came from.

This seems like a simple point, but if Gary had properly understood it, he would not have been so puzzled upon entering Baghdad. Liberals in general did not get this point, either, perhaps because this favorable reaction on the streets of Baghdad was at odds with their determined thesis at the time, namely that the invasion was wrong, end of discussion -- and so rather than encouraging this reaction and rewarding it with their even grudging acknowledgement, the liberals bided their time, waiting for some tangible bad news that they could point to and finally say, "Aha! I told ya so!"

Alas, the bad news was all too soon to come, and it came in profusion, involving endless explosions, hostage-taking, and anti-American rants, faithfully aired by the terrorists' go-to network for PR: Al Jazeera.

But speaking of simple points, did anyone ever stop to think WHO was pushing back against the "invasion", who were these terrorists that the liberal-influenced media all-too-flatteringly referred to as "insurgents"?

It wasn't those residents on the Baghdad streets, cheering on the Marines: It was, by and large, religious-crazed madmen, the despots themselves, and die-hard supporters of the old regime, whose idea of diplomacy (as the world saw to its horror) was blowing up women and children, especially those who are in the process of getting free candy or school supplies from good Samaritans in the U.S. Army.

America, under these circumstances, struck me as some hapless old-school cartoon character who would get kicked in the shin every time somebody ELSE did something wrong. American war critics were thus like Ma Kettle bashing poor pa upside the head with a frying pan every time Bugs Bunny stole some carrots:

A dozen school children have just been blown up? "There America goes again," say the critics, and not a word of protest against the side whose entire strategy is based on committing such unthinkable outrages in the first place -- in light of which acknowledgement, a sane world, hitherto neutral, might have decided to change course and actually bolster the Coalition after all, if only to drive such blatant scumbags out of Iraq once and for all. Instead, such nations cowardly opted to ignore the true perpetrators (or even flatter them with the term "insurgents") in deference to achieving what was apparently their most important goal, which was not so much saving lives in Iraq as it was being able to tell George W. Bush "I told you so."

For what was the terrorists' philosophical support in blowing up women and children? Whose body of work could they point to in their defense? They could point to nothing less than the philosophy of the invaders themselves (as reflected by the hypocritical thinking of the free-born Western liberals who disseminated it): chiefly, the idea that national sovereignty, in and of itself, is sacrosanct no matter what -- never mind whether a nation is ruled by willful child killers or by popularly elected leaders. Invasion was invasion was invasion. And it was always wrong.


This reminds me of a question my brother asked me during the early days of the Iraq invasion: He said (speaking in reference, apparently, to my hypothetical residence in some Middle Eastern country): "How would you feel if you looked outside and saw American ships in YOUR waters?"

I didn't miss a beat in answering: I would welcome a foreign power, I said, if I were living under a despot whom I had never had any role in electing. Sic semper tyrannis, brother. Remember? As a citizen used to my own freedom, I say that "Uneasy SHOULD lie the head that wears a crown," if that crown was conferred without the consent of the electorate to which I, as a free citizen, necessarily belong.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Q. True or false: After reading this article, we can conclude that Brian was in favor of the Iraq invasion of 2003.

    A. False. One can accept all of the philosophical caveats above and still hold that the 2003 invasion was wrong for any number of reasons. Brian himself has always professed dismay and perplexity at the fact that Bush's post-9-11 anti-terrorist strategy targeted Iraq rather than the nation that was clearly supporting Obama and his Taliban sympathizers: namely Pakistan.

  2. Q. Given the generally acknowledged liberal orthodoxy that holds among Brian's closest relations and friends, some analysts think it's possible that Brian must get "ideologically lonely" sometimes. Think about this for a few minutes and then answer the following question: Should Brian maybe get a dog? (If so, is there any particular breed that you would recommend? What breed would you get if YOU were lonely in this way?)

    A. First of all, Brian is an adult. I'm sure he can handle a little loneliness. That said, he has been thinking about getting a dog or so he tells me. So if I were him, I would first buy that land in the 'nearby mountains' that he's been talking about, you know, up on Great North Mountain, perhaps just over the top in Hardy County just off the penultimate switchback. He's already vowed that he's going to place a jacuzzi on such a property eventually -- so it could be a natural next step to get some dogs -- possibly a beagle, although I think a trio of black Labrador retrievers has also caught the royal eye.

  3. Q. Brian uses the term "liberal" above somewhat mischievously. Explain.

    A. Even Brian admits it's a bad habit, but he's lately taken to using the word "liberal" synonymously with that of "radical leftist." Lately, this may be somewhat excused, however, to the admittedly debatable extent that the current majority party embraces policies that are amenable to that latter nomenclature. Brian himself insists that he is a "liberal" (though only with the super-addition of nuanced caveats well beyond the scope of this discussion question) in such societal areas as education (he wants full funding for what he likes to call 'the edumacation of our young'uns') and gun control (he insists that sane gun policy will only come about when SANE GUN OWNERS tell the NRA to get lost -- and take its machine-gun toting arms dealers with it!)

    I'm sorry, what was the question again?

Copyright 2014, Brian Ballard Quass. No reprinting or reuse without written permission of Brian Ballard Quass: quass @ quass dot com.

Author reveals the untenable philosophical message of the movie John Q. and offers an alternative ending in which John's own son takes his father to task for acting immorally.

Denzel as Terrorist in John Q

Sundog, Maize 12, 2014

Despite all the on-cue cheering from the crowd, John Q is a piece of irresponsible agitprop (especially for a movie released in 2002, one year after 9/11) that sanctions vengeance, mob rule and anarchy.

Denzel Washington was a terrorist in John Q

Denzel Washington as Terrorist in John Q

How many patient and law-abiding parents did John Q leap-frog in order to get immediate care for HIS offspring? (Talk about the 'selfish gene'!) Of course, writer James Kearns makes it all work out for the best -- to the point that the hospital actually seems to run better when it's being lorded over by a hothead with a gun. But then Kearns had improbably staffed the hospital with a fiendish administrator who was a cross between Eva Braun and Anne Robinson of the Weakest Link -- for which the script writer, incidentally, owes an apology to the vast majority of hospital administrators who (agitprop notwithstanding) actually have a heart -- and are forced to work within restraints that are for the overall benefit of everybody and shouldn't be subject to veto by any angry parent with a firearm.

John Q Memorial Hospital: First gun, first served

I could tolerate this film if John Q had shown any repentance at all, ever -- but far from it, he rides off into the sunset (to an incredibly short stint in the pokey) with a self-satisfied smirk on his face -- apparently totally uninterested in the fate of the sniper whom he gratuitously sucker punched so hard as to likely cause internal bleeding that could easily lead to death in real life -- possibly depriving that sniper's son of a father. But then John Q has made it clear all along that he's not interested in "sons" in the abstract: he just cares about his own son, thank you very much.

If I could have rewritten the movie, I would have ended it with the grown Mike (now enrolled in college) chastising his father as follows:

Mike: "Dad, I'm grateful for you saving my life, but..."
Dad: "But what, son?"
Mike: "Well, it's just that I've been reading Immanuel Kant in philosophy class and...."
Dad: "You've been reading WHAT?"
Mike: "And I fail to see how your actions square with the Categorical Imperative."
Dad: "Look, you got a new heart son: be happy."
Mike: (after a moment of frustrated silence) "Dad, have you ever even HEARD of the word 'ignoble'???"
Dad: "Enough with the 50-cent words, son. Now how are you fixed for money? I'm sure that college expenses add up."
Mike: "I'm doing fine, Dad."
Dad: "Are you sure?"
Mike: "I'm sure."
Dad: "'Cause just say the word, and I'll take hostages at the nearest bank until they loan you the necessary do-re-mi."
Mike: "Dad, I'm an adult now: I can live my OWN life, thanks."
Dad: "You're right, son: If the bank needs robbing, I'm sure you know how to fend for yourself."
Mike: "Dad!"
Dad: "After all, you learned from an expert -- if I do say so myself."


What have we learned?

Questions for further discussion

  • Was John Q a terrorist?
    (A: You betcha.)

  • Would Immanuel Kant have "signed off," morally speaking, on John Q's behavior?
    (A: Obviously not. I mean, hello. Can somebody say categorical imperative?)

  • Does John Q owe the sniper an apology for sucker-punching him (multiple times, even)?
    (A: You're darn tootin'. I mean, hello? The guy was just doing his job, trying to protect innocent women and children from what to any neutral outsider had to look like a grade-A psychopath.)

  • This post is obviously approaching the movie "John Q" from a completely novel angle that is fraught with fascinating philosophical implications. What are the chances, therefore, that this post will be 'bigged-up' online?

  • (A: I should LIVE so long! Humph! -- or YOU should live so long, for that matter! DOUBLE humph!)

John Q Logic Problems

John Q recently had a very busy week. Each day he had a different grievance with society that called for immediate resolution through the medium of threats and intimidation. Using only the info found below, can you determine the nature of each grievance, the threats he made to resolve it, the weapon that he used to back up his threat, and the sentence that he ultimately received in court for the wrong-doing in question?

1) It was not on Wednesday that John Q threatened the Food Store manager with a knife.

2) John Q threatened the clinic nurse (but not with a gun) the day after he threatened the bank guard (but not with a canister of the Ebola virus).

3) John Q served no time for threatening the bureaucrat with a gun but served a full 4 days for the threat carried out on Thursday.

4) John Q threatened the sharpshooter with either a tactical nuclear weapon or a bottle of weapons-grade anthrax.

5) The bureaucrat was not threatened with a gun.

6) The anthrax was put to work the day before the gun was used.

7) John Q got a tougher sentence for the threat using the tactical nuke than he did for the Ebola threat, which was tougher than the sentence for the Anthrax threat (which was not made on Tuesday).

8) The manager was not threatened on Friday and the bureaucrat was not threatened on Monday or Wednesday.

Interview with Greatness

Q) Brian, darling, what did you mean by that apparent 'potshot' at Al Sharpton. Art mad?

A) Not a bit of it, dawg. I love the guy to pieces. All I'm sayin' is that somebody should buy the dude a copy of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations.

Q) What?

A) And teach the man the meaning of the word 'ignoble'. (or, for starters, merely advise him of the apparently overlooked fact that such a word and concept actually exists!)

No Justice, No Fiddlesticks!

Q) But no justice, no peace, right, Brian? Eh? Eh?

A) No justice, no fiddlesticks! "

Q) I beg your pardon?

A) In a democracy, you make your views known in a peaceful but forceful fashion. And if you've got a moral cause, you count on all citizens of good will to join you. You don't implicitly threaten violence if you don't have your way immediately, effectively alienating the very opposition that it's your job to persuade. "No Justice, No Peace" is the slogan of leftist fascism when spoken in a Democracy. It's the politics of threats and intimidation.

Q) But --

A) Mind you, it's all part and parcel of Sharpton's M.O.: demonize your imagined enemies rather than sitting down at the table and seeking solutions with them. Thus Sharpton, with his dogmatic hyperbole, carries on the tradition of George Wallace, albeit from the other side of the fence, saying with his every word and deed: "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!"

Keyword Prayer to Father Google

Dear All-Powerful Google,

We come before you today recognizing that we are nothing without you. We therefore beseech visibility for this our philosophically minded post about the movie called John Q Public that was released in 2002 (the movie I mean, not the post) starring Denzel Washington and written by James Kearns. We remind you that the producer was a certain Nick Cassavetes, whom, as you may recall, later went on to perpetrate 'The Astronaut's Wife' and 'Hangover Part II'. Forgive both Nick and James for implausibly casting the otherwise lovely Larissa Laskin as a recalcitrant Nazi nurse (Ellen Klein, a sort of Irish Dr. Mengele), when all the hospital staff, Ellen included, were really trying to do was give the best possible shake to every single patient, not just those who, in the vehemence of their familial discomfiture, were packing heat. And finally, O Google, remind Herr Kearns, his obvious Marxist leanings notwithstanding, that it is not yet a crime in America to enjoy a round of golf of a weekend, even if one has committed the faux pas of being a middle-upper-class white bureaucrat who is loath to drop everything to attend to the needs of one solitary patient, never mind how much of a hip persona that he might thereby acquire in the eyes of the rabble that are surrounding the grounds of his health care employer at that very moment, irresponsibly protesting in favor of the untenable doctrine that "might makes right," and that the mere possession of a Saturday Night Special allows a distraught father to leap-frog the often equally pressing medical needs of his grieving patriarchal counterparts -- let alone to race off actually smirking about his crime after getting a ridiculously short sentence from a judge, never mind the fact that John has, in the process of his armed moral showboating, probably consigned a 100% law-abiding fellow citizen (who no doubt ALSO had a son) to a painful life in a wheelchair.

We pray in the name of true justice (as opposed to that evil petty antithesis, aka mob rule a la Al Sharpton) -- not to mention online visibility, Google, I beg ya now, right smack dab down on my proverbial you-know-whatters.... -- Amen.
denzel washington, john q, hospitals, health care, terrorism, james kearns

Contact: quass@quass.com

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Copyright 2014, Brian Ballard Quass. No reprinting or reuse without written permission of Brian Ballard Quass: quass @ quass dot com.

Burn after reading

Burn After Viewing

Sadderspray, Feverwary 8, 2014

EDITOR'S NOTE: Brian Quass is the inventor of a number of new genres (tho' he's not so naive as to be expecting any thank-you's in THIS lifetime, humph!) -- including the Press Conference Movie Review. The following IS such a review, in this case about the 2008 Coen Brothers movie entitled "Burn After Reading."

Ladies and Gentlemen, the MovieGoer of the United States of America.

[ Band Plays "Hail to the Chief MovieGoer" ]

[ Polite applause ]

MovieGoer: Thank you, please be seated.

As you know, last night I watched the movie "Burn After Reading" starring Brad Pitt, George Clooney, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, and Frances McDormand. First, I will say that the plot description sounded very promising to me: a couple of self-centered nobodies (Pitt and McDormand) get ahold of a data CD that they mistakenly believe to contain top-secret material, and when they seek to profit from their discovery, hilarity ensues.

[ Needle scratches record ]

Well, hilarity should have ensued. John Malkovich was funny enough as the disgruntled ex-CIA agent who had lost the disc in the first place, which apparently contained nothing but a rough-draft of his hilariously muddled attempts at memoir writing. But just when I thought I saw where things were going, comically speaking, the movie takes a u-turn into the duplicitous love lives of Clooney and Swinton, which turns out to be a good half-hour detour during which Malkovich disappears from the movie altogether and nary a word is spoken about the two nobody gym employees and their supposed treasure trove of compromising information.

Of course, the Clooney-Swinton plot dovetailed eventually with the main action, but by then I had really stopped caring what the one had to do with the other. Nor was the comedic value restored by the heavily accented confusion of the Russian embassy personnel when they were pestered by the money-chasing data-finders, nor by the bemused attempts of the CIA Chief to run damage control on an increasingly byzantine-looking drama that ultimately appeared to have no point to it whatsoever, except in the paranoid eyes of the two principals themselves. Speaking of whom, the funniest character of them all (chief conspirator Brad Pitt) is rather unfunnily murdered by George Clooney, who shoots the perky gym coach at point-blank range after discovering him hiding in a closet).

In short, a great idea for a comedy: but poor execution, no pun intended.

I'll take a few questions, now. Yes.

Mr. MovieGoer, what was the name of Malkovich's character?

I believe it was Osbourne Cox, a Balkan "expert."

And isn't it true that Osbourne's wife (Tilda Swinton) was secretly in love with Harry (George Clooney)?

That sounds right to me.

Well, forgive me, sir, but why didn't you say so?

Well, I --

I mean, how can you leave such crucial information out of what is essentially a movie review?!

Because the whole point of this review is that I did not give a rat's --- about that entanglement...

Well, I never --

...since that hanky-panky distracted from, rather than complemented, the plot...

Well --

...which, if you had been listening to my opening statement, you might have already gleaned, madam.

One more question.

Mr. MovieGoer!

Yes, you, sir.

Mr. MovieGoer! What are some of the taglines for 'Burn After Reading?'

Let's see: I believe there were three.


According to the IMDB, the taglines were: 'Intelligence is relative', 'Intelligence is only their job', and...

Yes? Yes?

And, I quote, "A high stakes love life and Jewel CIA shelter."

Say again?

"A high stakes love life and Jewel CIA shelter."

Beggin' your pardon, sir, but what the hell does that mean?

I don't know. But it's on the IMDB, so it's got to be right!

Mr. MovieGoer! Mr. MovieGoer!

I'm sorry, no more questions!
burn after viewing, coen brothers, brad pitt, george clooney, john malkovich, tilda swinton, and frances mcdormand

Contact: quass@quass.com

People who enjoyed this post went on to experience life-changing epiphanies upon the subsequent persual of quasarnibs.com.

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Copyright 2014, Brian Ballard Quass. No reprinting or reuse without written permission of Brian Ballard Quass: quass @ quass dot com.

Ignoble Zeitgeist

Moondog, Januvery 27, 2014

Friends are always asking me: "Brian," they say, "where exactly do you part ways with the modern liberal zeitgeist of 21st-century America?"

Well, no sooner do I hear such an evocative poser, then I ask my interlocutor what sort of coffee they prefer -- after all, my nuanced answer to such a naive question is bound to constitute a voyage of discovery, and I would be loath to have the apparently somewhat confused landlubber set sail without a libation to mark the upcoming sea change in their understanding -- and since such questions are usually asked in the morning time (don't ask me why) and whereas I have something of a reputation for brewing excellent coffee (well, we all have our own little talents, I suppose)....

Anyway, the dude betakes himself to my tawny queen sleeper sofa (my queen is tawny, by the way, not the sofa!), coffee mug in what by now is usually a slightly tremulous hand, as I stalk imposingly back and forth before him on the tufted carpet (hand-tufted, I might add, by personal friends of mine in the Lakota Tribe in Pine Ridge, South Dakota -- and yes, I kept the hand-written receipt specifically to silence probable doubters like yourself!), eyes turned upward toward the vaulted ceiling as if in search of the best way to begin my provocative lecture...

Which, coming soon, my dear diary: coming soon!

Copyright 2014, Brian Ballard Quass. No reprinting or reuse without written permission of Brian Ballard Quass: quass @ quass dot com.