Like Talking to a Brick Wall

 


The First Continental Congress of the American Colonies sent a petition to King George III on October 25, 1774, requesting he redress their grievances against the British Parliament related to the Coercive Acts passed in response to the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. The king ignored the petition, and consequently the colonists’ march toward revolution picked up momentum over the next year, resulting in the beginning of hostilities in the spring of 1775. Petitions were the primary recourse of the American Colonists in dealing with their British rulers across the Atlantic Ocean since they had no official representation in Parliament, hence the slogan “No taxation without representation.”

The nation’s founders regarded the right to petition the government as so essential to a free society that they included it in the First Amendment, adopted in 1791. They made the right explicit despite the reality that citizens of the United States, unlike colonists under the British Empire, had official representation in the government. James Madison, who was largely responsible for drafting the Bill of Rights, understood that while the people had representation in government, their representatives may not be responsive to the wishes of all the people, and that therefore the people required another, independent outlet “for a redress of grievances.”



The unresponsiveness of government representatives to the people has rarely appeared as evident as it does now, when it seems representatives are responsive mostly to the wishes of corporate contributors to their election campaigns. Polls do not necessarily give lawmakers an accurate idea of how some of their constituents are feeling about issues because responding to pollsters is a passive response to a pollster’s sometimes tailored questions. Poll sample sizes are also often ludicrously small on account of the expense and difficulty of polling. Pollsters claim they conduct their surveys based on well-researched principles in order to achieve accurate representation from small sample sizes, but there are plenty of examples to cite in demonstrating that taking polls is as much art as it is science, and not at all infallible. For one example, look at how inaccurate the polling was in several key Rust Belt states in the weeks before the November 2016 presidential election.


Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, Leader of the Women's Suffragette movement, is arrested outside Buckingham Palace while trying to present a petition to King George V in May 1914. Q81486
Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Woman’s Suffragette movement in England, arrested outside Buckingham Palace in London while trying to present a petition to King George V in May 1914. Photo from the British Imperial War Museum.


Signing a petition is an active measure taken by citizens numbering in the thousands or millions, as opposed to a select few hundreds or thousands responding passively to a pollster. Citizens mostly seek out petitions on their own initiative, or are made aware of them by friends or family, or by reading the news. The relative ease of signing a petition online, compared to signing one circulated door to door, does not discount that people are participating in the political process instead of waiting for someone to ask their opinion. The distinction is not a small one. Yes, physical participation in a protest weighs far more than signing an online petition in getting the attention of government leaders and the society at large, but an online petition nonetheless demonstrates that the people signing it are paying attention. Numbers have always given weight to petitions, and in the internet age it is possible for millions of people to make their wishes known to their representatives within days of a petition’s first appearance.

The petitions currently circulating urging United States House of Representatives legislators to impeach the occupant of the Oval Office are an excellent demonstration of the need of the people for an outlet to make their wishes known to their government. To anyone paying attention honestly to developments originating from the White House since January 2017, it has long been obvious that impeachment and conviction of the current president would be necessary sooner or later to uphold the rule of law. The nation’s legislators, however, always conscious of political calculations and of the interests of their big money donors, have been dragging their feet to avoid having to put themselves on the line in upholding the oath they took to preserve and defend the Constitution.

Captain Queeg, the character played by Humphrey Bogart in the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny, was obviously unstable, but nonetheless discharging him from his command was quite difficult because the captain of a vessel at sea is by necessity an autocrat whose authority is fully backed by a nation’s institutions. For all that, Captain Queeg was not a corrupt grifter with contempt for democratic institutions and a sneering disregard for the norms of civil discourse, and in comparison to the offenses of the current president, Queeg’s official transgressions were minor.

In other words, members of Congress have a constitutional duty to impeach this president for high crimes and misdemeanors he has engaged in too obviously for them to ignore any longer. Whether he will be convicted in the Republican-controlled Senate is anyone’s guess at this point. It probably depends on whether political calculations indicate to at least a few key Republican senators that the time has come at last to throw the president over the side, at which point many of the rest will scramble to get on board.

If millions of American people had waited politely for a pollster to ask them if impeachment was necessary, instead of taking matters into their own hands and petitioning their representatives, Congress might still be dithering, possibly all the way up to Election Day 2020. The current president may not get convicted in the Senate and removed from office before then, but it’s important that public hearings in Congress shine a light long enough and brightly enough on the corrupt and unethical practices of his administration that even the most disengaged voters will have to listen. A brick wall, no matter who constructed it, can keep people from hearing their government at work as well as keep government leaders from hearing the people, but now that representatives have finally listened to people engaged enough to petition them, it’s important that the rest of the populace listen honestly to the arguments for impeachment, and honest engagement requires more than checking an often lopsided Facebook news feed, a far sloppier way of exercising one’s civic duty than signing an online petition.
— Vita

 

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Let’s Be Clear

 


There is only one rule of grammar, and that is “Be Clear”. All the rest of what people think are hard and fast rules of grammar are really only guidelines in the service of the supreme rule, “Be Clear”. Placing a comma or period outside of quotation marks may violate the guideline for American usage (though not necessarily British usage), but if doing so serves logic, and therefore clarity, then there’s nothing wrong with the practice. If you’re writing a diary purely for your own eyes, then by all means write however you please. If you’re writing to be understood by other human beings, however, then it’s simple courtesy to convey your message to them clearly.


Humpty Dumpty
“I said it very loud and clear: I went and shouted in his ear.” Humpty Dumpty recites from his poem in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Illustration by John Tenniel.

 


Stop confusing “complement” with “compliment”, “affect” with “effect”, and “their” with “they’re”. There are many other examples of writers being lazy about the meanings of the words they use. Ignorance is not an excuse, not when a print dictionary can be had for a few dollars, and an online dictionary is usually free. A complimentary breakfast is free; a complementary breakfast is something else entirely, if it exists at all. Readers are affected by the effects of a writer’s word choices. They’re struggling to make sense of a lazy writer’s meanderings, and their poor understanding is all the fault of the lazy writer.



From the 1972 “Password” episode of the television series The Odd Couple, starring Tony Randall as Felix Ungar and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison, with Betty White, Allen Ludden, and Abbey Greshler. Part of effective communication is keeping your listeners or readers in mind.

 


Dangle participles at your own peril, and don’t expect all readers to divine your meaning despite the muddled sentences you present to them. Some readers will find some of your dangling participles humorous because of the incongruous images they evoke. Convulsed with laughter, your writing will not be taken seriously by your readers. Your readers will also get a few laughs, along with your writing. Like other grammar guidelines, the one about not dangling participles is best understood as a logic problem, as a challenge to making meaning clear. There’s no magic involved. Look at what you have written. Read it aloud if that helps. Does it make sense? After doing your best to serve your readers by being clear, then if you wish you can add details and stylistic flourishes. Remember B.C. (Be Clear) before A.D. ( Add Details), and everything will be OK.
— Ed.

 

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Between Friends

 


Where were you when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944? Were you only a glimmering in your parents’ brains?

 


Where were you when the Battle of Khe Sanh began on January 21, 1968? Were you nursing the bone spurs in your heels that would eventually earn you a medical deferment from the draft? Or were you awaiting a pilot’s commission in the Texas Air National Guard?


Refugee child drawing
A drawing made by a refugee child, formerly resident in Pristina, Kosovo, depicting his horrific experiences in the Kosovo War in 1999. The drawing was taped to a wall in the Brazda refugee center in Macedonia. Photo from the U.S. Department of State and NATO.


Where were you when the United States and its allies launched the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, beginning an unnecessary war that would spiral the entire region into chaos? Were you looking under furniture for weapons of mass destruction, something you would joke about later?

Where were you when the world learned in April 2004 that American soldiers had been torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison? Were you throwing a few “bad apples” under the bus, rather than acknowledging a culture of cruelty encouraged from the top down in the chain of command? Or were you busy making the first year of your daytime television talk show a success? Or were you occupied with creating an illusion of yourself as a successful and hard-nosed, but fair, businessman on the first year of your television reality show that was more fiction than reality?

Dire Straits performs “The Man’s Too Strong” in concert at Wembley Arena in London, England in June 1985 during their Brothers in Arms tour.

Where were you in 2008 after conservatives had used the wedge issue of gay marriage four years earlier to whip up the ire of homophobic reactionaries and send them to the polls in just enough numbers to make it possible for the Republican candidate to steal another presidential election? Were you getting married? What does your friend, the Republican presidential candidate, have to say about that now? Is he against gay marriage only when it suits political expediency?

Where were you in August 2016 when the Turks made their first incursion into the Kurdish zone of Syria, where the Kurds had been America’s ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS)? Were you listening to what the Russians had to say about your Democratic opponent in the presidential election, a practice you appear to have made into a habit since then as you extort other countries to get them to investigate your political rivals?

And where were all three of you when the brains were being passed out? It’s nice for people to have friends, but some friends are not worth having, such as a narcissistic sociopath or a war criminal, both of whom have proven time and again they look out only for themselves, and maybe their cronies as well. And in the sense of cronyism, a crony is not a true friend. And a friend may be a “sweet man” in private, but that shouldn’t shut out all the harm he’s caused in the world. Millions of Iraqis and Kurds may reflect on the old saying that “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”



— Vita



David Gilmour, best known as the lead guitarist for Pink Floyd, performs the Pink Floyd song “Coming Back to Life” with a new band backing him in a concert at Pompeii, Italy in July 2016.

 

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The Family Dinner

 

Political centrists such as Bill Maher, the television talk show host, firmly believe that in order for Democrats to defeat the current president in the 2020 election they must choose a centrist candidate. In a recent debate on his show with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, Mr. Maher, among his other claims promoting his view, stated that President Barack Obama ran as a centrist in his 2008 campaign and that is why he won. Mr. Moore disputed this, stating that Mr. Obama ran as a progressive populist and had the courage to list his middle name “Hussein” on the ballot. The two bet the cost of a trip to Hawaii on the resolution of their dispute.

Norman Rockwell Mural (Marion County, Oregon scenic images) (marDA0166)
A mural replica in Silverton, Oregon, of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want painting, one of a series he did in 1943 illustrating the Four Freedoms articulated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Photo from the Oregon State Archives. While Mr. Rockwell was depicting an ideal promulgated by a liberal Democratic president, his choice of models and their placement in a hierarchy at the family dinner table fits in well with the current conservative mythos of how Americans should look and comport themselves.

 

It’s not clear who was right about the middle name issue and therefore who won the bet, but in any event it hardly matters since the important point is that Mr. Obama ran his campaign from the left of center and then governed from the center. In national defense matters, such as expanding his predecessor’s drone attacks around the world and vindictively pursuing whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, Mr. Obama was to the right of center. His stance toward governing should have been clear early on from his appointments of Wall Street insiders like Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers to oversee the economy.

Barack Obama was never a fire-breathing liberal and never claimed to be one, though he did allow a lot of wishful thinking from liberal Democrats who wanted to believe he was more liberal then he was. They projected their wishes and hopes onto him, and being a politician he naturally turned that to his advantage. That wishful thinking can be glimpsed in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Obama in 2009 after he had done hardly anything to merit the award other than not being President George W. Bush. Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee do not vote in American elections, of course, but like liberal American voters weary of the belligerence and disregard for human rights of the George W. Bush administration, they were eager to project their hopes onto Mr. Obama.

Bill Maher has similarly profited from the projections of many liberals, who seem to think a person who is for the legalization of marijuana and against the policies and tenure of the current president cannot possibly be as reactionary as he really is in many ways. He is reactionary in his statements about Muslims and about gender politics and about how he believes political correctness is more corrosive to our democratic republic than the rapaciousness of capitalist exploitation. Most of all he is reactionary in his repeated assertions that no one to the left of himself among the Democrats can defeat the current president in 2020 because he believes most Americans are firmly in his, Bill Maher’s, camp on most everything that matters.



From Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall, a diversity of viewpoints and attitudes, some more subdued than others.

 

Mr. Maher is wrong about the politics of most Americans, as he is wrong about his other more distastefully retrograde beliefs. Michael Moore pointed out in their debate how Mr. Maher’s assessment of where most Americans reside on the political scale was wrong, and that they are more liberal within the Democratic Party than the Party establishment cares to acknowledge. None of Bill Maher’s views would matter if it weren’t for how they are often cited by conservative media and politicians as supporting their agenda and given extra weight by them because they are supposedly expressed by a liberal. It suits their cause to have a “house liberal” of sorts.

The fiction of Mr. Maher’s liberalism is propped up also by uncritical viewers on the left who give his pontifications on Democratic politics more respect than they deserve. Reactionary centrists such as Mr. Maher are uncomfortable with the infighting that always prevails among Democrats, and they see it as giving aid and comfort to the other side while weakening their own. People like Bill Maher may as well decry the spots on a leopard. Dissension is in the nature of liberal Democratic Party politics; it’s what differentiates them from the other side, too many members of which fall obediently into line like good little authoritarians.

Journalist Glenn Greenwald in a December 2016 appearance on The Jimmy Dore Show. Warning: one naughty word.

Bill Maher is like the brother-in-law at a large family dinner where all the members are squabbling in a free wheeling manner, and he sits there with a slight smirk, believing he’s smarter than he really is and eager to toss out a snarky remark to show he’s superior to what’s going on around him at the table. He and people like him, with an authoritarian streak in their character despite the liberality of some of their views, cannot understand how argument and dissension strengthen, not weaken, Democratic Party politics, and ultimately democracy itself. Falling in line without questioning is for autocrats and their followers. The ancient Athenians were not without their fair share of faults, but today most people recognize their society, noisy and argumentative as the scenes at their family dinner tables might have been, as more worth honoring and emulating than the authoritarian society of the Spartans, who fell in line and did as they were told by their “betters”.
— Ed.

 

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You Don’t Have to Do This

 

Shop for a new smartphone and the choice of operating system appears limited to Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android. The choice of wireless carrier network for the new smartphone is limited to five or six companies, and while there are more than a dozen smaller carriers, they all lease their networks from the larger carriers. Mergers of technology companies and globalization of supply chains have made it difficult for consumers to entertain enough options to simultaneously suit their desires for reasonable prices, efficient service, and in the best case scenario, ethical marketplace behavior.

 

To be a large player in the technology industry, as in many other industries, it seems engaging in horrible practices is simply a necessary cost of doing business. It’s as if economies of scale and ethical behavior are mutually exclusive. Apple iPhones are manufactured under terrible labor conditions in China, and the cobalt required for manufacture of those iPhones is mined using child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Google, Facebook, and Twitter all sell their users’ information to advertisers while double-dipping by generating enormous ad revenues from the wide use of their services. That’s the cost of “free” to the users. As an online retailer, Amazon’s reputation for egregious labor practices is as bad or worse than that of its major brick and mortar competitor, Walmart.

Ilhan Omar speaking at worker protest against Amazon (45406484475)
U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) speaking in December 2018 to about 200 workers protesting conditions at an Amazon workplace in Shakopee, Minnesota. Photo by Fibonacci Blue. Protests by workers in this country against unfair labor practices by giant companies like Amazon would get a slingshot-like boost if lawmakers would repeal the anti-union legislation passed in the last 50 years at the behest of corporations.

That is by no means a comprehensive list of all the technology companies with reputations for treating customers, workers, suppliers, or the environment badly. Just as Americans are becoming more concerned with what is in their food and how it’s produced, they can devote some time and attention to how their technology products are produced and how companies are using the personal information they hand over in the course of using their services. It may seem like there are few to no alternatives to some technology products and services, but there are alternatives, and it may require effort put into research to find out about them, and then some sacrifices as it turns out they don’t offer absolutely everything consumers are used to getting from Microsoft’s Windows operating system, for instance, or Facebook’s one-stop social media and news sharing platform.

Some people simply won’t care, of course, and will remain interested only in what’s easiest and most convenient for them. This is not for them. Others who are concerned about voting with their dollars, however, should know there are ways to find alternatives to signing on with the big technology companies, and that informing themselves doesn’t have to suck up an inordinate amount of their time and energy. Currently there is almost no labeling on technology products and services such as there is on food for sale in supermarkets, informing consumers of organic and non-GMO options, and of nutritional content. There should be similarly easily apparent labels for technology, listing ratings from an impartial source, if such is possible, on a company’s treatment of workers, suppliers, and the environment. The companies are now required by law to enumerate the ways they use customer information, but that is for the most part buried in fine print legalese that few consumers bother to read.

In episode #1938, “Theresa Syndrome”, from the radio show Car Talk, the portion of the show relevant to this post starts at the 10:45 mark with a call from Brian in Harrisonville, Kentucky. Questions of ethics come up every day in everyone’s lives, and in this case as in many others, arguments of efficiency that mask motives of self-interest are all too common.

Until the technology industry catches up with at least the halting steps the food industry has taken to inform consumers about what they are buying and what kind of ethical or unethical behavior they in turn support with their purchases, it will remain up to individual consumers to inform themselves. Globalization has made it easy to hide the ugly details of technology manufacturing halfway around the world. Out of sight, out of mind. It’s not as if things were far better 100 years ago, though, because at that time for most Americans a sweatshop on New York City’s Lower East Side was as much on the other side of the world as a sweatshop in Bangladesh is today. Speed of travel and communications have changed the seeming size of the world, but sadly not the willingness of businesses and governments to exploit the less fortunate, and of the more fortunate to turn a blind eye.
— Techly

Editor’s note: Bonus points to readers who note advertising on this site for the products of one of the companies criticized in this post. It’s hard, maybe impossible, to exist in the modern world without some compromises, and like everybody else, writers have to eat. With a little effort and attentiveness, people do what they can to make the world a better place, but no one is without faults, and as Joe E. Brown said at the end of the movie Some Like It Hot, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”

 

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The Conspiracy Line

 

By the 1960s, of the hundreds of streetcar lines that had once been a primary mode of transportation in cities and suburbs across the United States in the first half of the 20th century, only a small fraction still operated, and usually only in city centers. Competition from automobiles and buses was one cause for declining ridership of streetcars, and supposedly the costs of installing and maintaining lines was higher than costs associated with infrastructure for cars and buses. The history of what happened in the major mid-century makeover of American urban mass transit is muddled, and one explanation for it that keeps popping up has to do with the machinations of the automobile manufacturers, chiefly General Motors (GM).

 

The idea springs from how GM bought out streetcar lines around the country, and then dismantled the lines, junked the streetcars, and signed city governments to contracts for purchase and ongoing use of the buses GM manufactured. GM also sold cars to urban and suburban commuters who found themselves with fewer alternatives than they had before the 1920s, when the streetcar lines were still thriving. That’s a neat story, and it certainly fits in with the behavior we have come to expect of large corporations and the executives who run them, but in this case it turns out to be a little too neat and only partially true.

Purchase Street, New Bedford, Mass (68412)
A postcard circa 1930-1945 depicts Purchase Street in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Photo from the Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers collection.

Market forces generated by consumer preferences played the greatest part in the decline of ridership on streetcar lines starting in the 1920s and accelerating through the next quarter century. The streetcar lines were privately owned and the companies bore the costs of maintaining the tracks they operated on and other infrastructure costs, even though they used the same publicly maintained roads as buses and cars. The streetcar lines were more and more at a competitive disadvantage as public money benefited those other modes of transportation and as consumers came to prefer the relative freedom of driving their own cars or taking buses that weren’t restricted to tracks.

Comforting as it might be to blame the automobile and gasoline industries for ripping up streetcar tracks around the nation, depriving commuters of a useful commuting option, the truth in this case is that the public shoulders the greater responsibility. Individual consumers operating in their own self-interest took advantage of cheap gasoline and publicly financed road building, such as the interstate highway system started in the 1950s, to buy at least one car for every household. In most cities, taxpayers balked at public ownership of the streetcar lines, a move which would have saved many of the lines from the corporate scavenging that ultimately killed them off. In other words, GM and other auto and gas corporate interests didn’t precipitate the demise of the streetcar lines, but neither did they mourn their loss, and ultimately, of course, GM and the others profited greatly from the makeover of the American transportation system.

By the time of the 1959 release of Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest, the streets of Manhattan were dominated by vehicular traffic, and mass transit options for New Yorkers were limited to subways and buses. Bernard Herrmann composed the music for the film, and Saul Bass designed the titles. The director makes his cameo appearance at the end of the title sequence.

More than a half century after streetcars were all but wiped off the map in America, they are coming back in spots like Brooklyn, driven by the desire of some people to get around town without the hassles of car ownership, the pollution of cars and buses, the blight of enormous parking lots, and the swallowing up of green spaces for more roads to alleviate the congestion on existing roads, only to have the new roads fill up as well. Streetcars powered by electricity generate pollution at a remove, to be sure, but as more power plants use renewable energy sources, that problem should lessen. Meanwhile, building out more mass transit infrastructure should take off the road some of the oversized vehicles too many Americans appear to love, and which the automobile makers and the fossil fuel industry love turning out for them since they are highly profitable. It has taken a century for Americans to learn anew the value of mass transit options like streetcars, and perhaps soon, before we reach the end of the line, gridlock on the roads will clear, and so will the air everywhere.
— Vita

 

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Self-Pitying and Selfish

 

“Aggrieved entitlement” is a term almost exclusively applicable to white, American men because it takes note of the historically high levels of privilege of that demographic relative to the rest of society, and how as the less privileged have demanded equal treatment some white, entitled American men feel an erosion of their privilege. They feel “aggrieved” about the situation particularly because they think their loss of privilege is unjustified. A less charitable way of describing how they feel is to call them self-pitying and selfish.

John Wayne Publicity Photo 1952
A 1952 publicity photo of John Wayne (1907-1979), the actor whose image represented for many throughout the middle of the 20th century the ideal of American manhood, and who is even now still revered by some.

 

There is good reason to feel uncharitable toward a segment of society when its most extreme members act out their anger and frustrations by shooting and killing other human beings, sometimes on a massive scale. A disproportionate number of mass shooters are angry white men. After every mass shooting, there are calls for tighter gun control and for better mental health evaluations and treatments. Those are measures worth acting upon, if government leaders can ever muster the political will and courage to pass significant legislation and allocate sufficient resources to support them.

The largest element underlying gun violence goes unaddressed, however, and that is the sickness of this society. This is a society that values athletes more highly than teachers, and rewards cutthroat capitalists with outsized political power and immunity from customary ethical standards of doing business with the public and cooperating with workers and government. This is a society that puts cartoonish displays of machismo in its popular entertainment and then exalts them as models of the male ideal. This is a society where the term “toxic masculinity” has become necessary to describe behavior we unfortunately have come to witness every day.


The Searchers was a 1956 western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.

 

Until the society as a whole works to correct the conditions nurturing the ideas some white men have that the possession, worship, and ultimately homicidal use of guns is the best way to make themselves feel better, then mass shootings are likely to keep occurring. These men deserve our empathy, or understanding, so that we can more effectively pinpoint and effect societal remedies. They do not deserve our sympathy, or sorriness, for how they feel about their changing circumstances. Just as the majority of children who come from broken homes do not grow up to become criminals, only a very few white men are so wrapped up in their sense of aggrieved entitlement that they lash out violently. Everyone has problems; most people find peaceful, constructive ways to cope with them.

Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, the warped character at the center of Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver. The story is told from Bickle’s perspective, which helps the audience have empathy for him. It’s up to individual audience members to decide if they feel sympathy for him. Warning: foul language.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, a physical law first stated by Isaac Newton, and it seems it applies to forces within society as well. As women and non-white ethnic groups have fought for equal rights over the past 100 years or so, there has been an opposite reaction from men and white people, though not all of them in equal measure. As women have gained power in the marketplace and in the home, we have unfortunately seen the coining of terms like “man up”. As non-white ethnic groups have expressed their growing power in increasing numbers at the ballot box, we have begun to hear the phrase “take back our country” from some in the white majority who feel threatened by slippage in their dominant status. If meanness of spirit can be learned, then generosity of spirit can be taught, and society should emphasize the value in it. More Tom Joad, less Rambo.
— Ed.

 

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Coloring Within the Lines

 

To maintain the integrity of a supplied drawing, people usually color as much as they can within the lines. Some people use crayons, while others use markers or pens. When it comes to using electromagnetic spectrum in the United States, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is in charge of allocating bands within the spectrum and making sure everyone stays within their specified lines. The NTIA does its work within the Department of Commerce.

 

The Department of Commerce also oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which in turn oversees the National Weather Service (NWS). Independent of all these Department of Commerce agencies is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the parts of the spectrum allocated for its oversight by the FTIA, such as radio, television, and cellular phone frequencies. Beginning late last year, the FCC has been auctioning spectrum to mobile phone companies for them to use in their 5G networks. When the FCC auctioned off spectrum in the 24GHz (gigahertz) band, they raised alarm within the NOAA since that agency uses the 23.8GHz band in its weather satellites to measure water vapor in the atmosphere, a key component in its ability to forecast the weather.

January 2016 Spectrum Wall Chart
This image of an outdated January 2016 Spectrum Wall Chart from the NTIA is only useful as an overview of just how tightly packed bandwidth allocation is in parts of the spectrum, based on the jumble of colors. For a better view, download a PDF (Portable Document Format) of the chart from the NTIA website, though even then it can be a strain on the eyes without higher magnification.

Now anyone who has ever manually tuned a radio receiver with a dial knows the radio stations do not stay exactly within their spectrum lines at all times, and depending on the power of the transmitters the different stations use and atmospheric conditions and the varying state of the ionosphere, some stations can occasionally push into the territory of other stations. That is what worries NOAA administrators about the 24GHz band proposed for 5G use by mobile phone companies and their man in the FCC, Chairman Ajit Pai. NOAA administrators believe 24GHz is too close for comfort and may occasionally interfere with its use of 23.8GHz, which it cannot change because it is determined by the physical law of water vapor’s behavior. They believe the interference could cause as much as a 30 percent drop in forecasting efficiency, akin to stepping back in time to 1980.

This inter agency squabble isn’t even necessary, it turns out, because if the FCC and American mobile phone companies followed the European model for ensuring minimal interference with weather satellites, they would simply add greater restrictions to the transmitting power of 5G antennas in the higher bandwidths and rely more extensively on mid-range bandwidths that are not only better for 5G transmission, but also safely removed from the vicinity of crucial weather data transmissions.

A May 2019 news report from Sky News in London, England.

There will be a World Radiocommunication Conference in Egypt in October and November, where attendees will set international standards for 5G. Considering the attitudes and policies of the current presidential administration, the American delegation will probably resist the European model and go its own incautious way in order to serve the interests of the major telecommunications companies. It’s possible the American model may turn out fine eventually, but considering the drawbacks of being wrong, wouldn’t it be prudent to heed the concerns of weather forecasters, at least until more field testing proves without a doubt the safety of using the 24GHz band of the spectrum? To satisfy the greed of telecommunications executives and the desire of some smartphone users for faster loading Facebook feeds, is it worth having a hurricane drop in on us unexpectedly? A real hurricane, that is, not one drawn with crayons, however neatly.
— Techly

 

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What’s It to Ya, Doc?

 

“It ill becomes us to invoke in our daily prayers the blessings of God, the Compassionate, if we in turn will not practice elementary compassion towards our fellow creatures.”
Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

Anyone who has ever been a vegetarian or vegan even for a short time has probably at some point encountered hostility from a meat eater, perhaps on several occasions from many different people. The experience can be baffling, particularly if the vegetarian or vegan does not make a big show of their practices. Self-righteous and preachy behavior can be annoying, certainly, but even when a vegetarian or vegan abstains from being a smug boor, some meat eaters will attack them as if they had been. A couple of recent news items help illustrate the innate hostility some people harbor for those who don’t adhere to mainstream dietary practices, even though it’s no one’s business but their own and the majority of them do not go out of their way to bother anyone.


Arby’s, an American fast food chain specializing in roast beef sandwiches, has come out with turkey meat processed to look like a bloated carrot, and in London two men have been found guilty of disorderly behavior after they ate raw squirrels in front of a vegan food stand. The actions of both Arby’s and the London squirrel eaters are obvious attempts to troll vegetarians and vegans, and their reasons for doing so say more about their own stunted mentality than anything else. Arby’s has for some time used an advertising slogan which proudly declares their enthusiasm for meat, and plenty of it. It is a fair guess that even if the political culture of Arby’s management is not necessarily right wing, they do assess their customer base as right wing, and trolling the perceived political correctness of their fast food competitors who have lately been offering vegetarian menu options is a good way to appeal to them.

Marzipan carrots for carrot cake
Marzipan carrots for carrot cake. Marzipan consists primarily of almond paste and sugar or honey, and vegetarians would partake of it, though if honey were in it, vegans would not. Photo by SKopp.

Like everything else in our society, there is a political division in people’s dietary choices. Vegetarians and vegans are mostly liberals. Other liberals who are meat eaters are more likely to react to alternative diets with indifference or polite curiosity. At any rate, most of them do not perceive vegetarians and vegans as threats. Not so political conservatives, particularly those with authoritarian leanings. The difference is so striking that it can almost be used as a reliable indicator of political beliefs: hostility to diets at variance with the mainstream is a good clue that a person might be right wing. Often these people will appoint themselves to keep an eye on vegetarians and vegans for backsliding, no matter how innocuous their target is about minding their own business and not actively posing a threat to them. If threats are not real, they will be imagined! We have met the enemy, and it is Them, the Others!

Nothing delights these self-appointed guardians of imagined societal standards more than catching a vegetarian or worse, a vegan (and therefore probably a liberal!) in an act of perceived hypocrisy, because then they can denounce the entire belief system and not be bothered anymore by any of its implications, such as cruelty to animals or environmental degradation. A problem ignored is a problem solved! Meat eaters who worry about the perceived sanctimonious behavior of non-meat eaters occasionally like to bring up the supposed fact of Adolf Hitler’s vegetarianism, as if the actions and beliefs of one ogre tarnish all vegetarians. That is like suggesting the beliefs and actions of all Christians are suspect simply because some white evangelical Christian leaders are terrible human beings.

In this Merrie Melodies cartoon from 1947, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd are at odds with each other as always, and the cartoon finishes with action that for its time was considered normal.

It is interesting to note that in dealing with hostility from some meat eaters, non-meat eaters discover they can assuage the unease of their interrogators when they ask about the reasons for their choice by stressing the healthful benefits over the other issues. That approach is not entirely dishonest, since there are real benefits for human health in foregoing or at least restricting meat eating. The American diet of meat with nearly every meal is not the most healthful, nor is it the historical norm. Most Americans could stand to reduce their consumption of meat, and in doing so they would benefit their own health as well the health of the environment and the quality of life for billions of animals. It is interesting and sad to note that of the three primary benefits of an alternative diet, only the first sets well with right wing authoritarians, and only on account of selfish reasoning.
— Izzy

 

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Goldilocks Tomatoes

 

Americans have become spoiled by the year round availability of produce at the supermarket. The tomatoes available in the store most of the year are hardly worthwhile, but there they are nonetheless, waiting for shoppers who have no other option. Summer is the time for homegrown tomatoes, which definitely are worthwhile, however too many Americans appear to carry over the habits they’ve learned from grocery shopping and believe they should be able to harvest tomatoes from their small patch of a few plants nearly every day all summer long. It’s as if they thought someone might be hiding throughout the day near the tomato patch and coming out under cover of darkness to restock their plants with newly ripened fruit, and just enough to satisfy the consumer’s need for the day.

 

That would be a pleasant scenario, but unfortunately it’s a pipe dream. There are only two factors broadly setting the pace for when tomatoes ripen and in what quantity, and they are the genetics of a determinate versus indeterminate tomato plant, and the weather, particularly temperature. A determinate tomato plant grows to a point of maturity, sets fruit, generally earlier in the summer than other tomato plants, and then goes dormant. An indeterminate tomato plant continues growing, vine-like, throughout the summer until frost, and sets fruit sporadically from mid-summer on, although the fruits borne late in the season as cool weather approaches may not ripen on the vine.

Rajčata&skleník
Growing tomatoes in a greenhouse or cold frame is a way to extend the season by exerting more control over growing conditions than can be had by subjecting the plants to nature. Photo by Fredy.00.

Temperature as a determining factor for tomato plants setting fruits and ripening them is important across the board, no matter what type of plant, whether determinate or indeterminate, or whether the grower advertises a particular plant as an early, late, or mid season variety. Nighttime temperatures below 55 degrees are no good, as are daytime temperatures above 85 degrees. Everything else is meaningless if the temperature does not reside within that sweet spot, that Goldilocks zone. Growers of hothouse tomatoes know this better than anybody. Yet year after year home growers select their tomato plants at the garden center each spring with a plan of spreading out the harvest throughout the summer based on type of plant and promises made by the seller of when to expect the harvest to begin.

There will be some variation in growth early in the season when planting a patch of a few tomato plants, and staggering planting dates may be of limited utility early on as well. As summer progresses, though, and hot weather takes over day after day, all the plants will end up near the same stage of growth at the same time, and the poor gardener, whose best laid plans called for perhaps only a few ripe tomatoes each day from June through September, instead finds himself or herself with an avalanche of ripening tomatoes in July and August, or hardly any at all. These are the risks of subjecting our desires to nature’s control, rather than going to the supermarket to buy a lackluster but sturdily dependable tomato.

What to do? If enough space is available, put in more than a half dozen plants, even if that means a potential glut of tomatoes in a bumper year. More plants is good insurance against a bad year and brings the dream of an evenly spaced harvest closer to reality. Put those plants in slightly different locations, varying the microclimate for each plant, rather than subjecting all of them to the exact same conditions, and potentially the exact same problems. Spread them out if there’s space available. Tomato plants should get at least six hours of sunlight each day, but the kind of sunlight matters a great deal. All tomato plants like to get early morning sun to dry the dew off their leaves. In the South, they appreciate shade from the hottest afternoon sun.

John Denver performed the Guy Clark song “Homegrown Tomatoes” for his 1988 album, Higher Ground, and the song then appeared on his 1991 compilation album, Take Me Home, Country Roads.

If not much space is available, put in as many plants as possible without crowding them, which leads to poor air circulation and consequent fungus and blight problems. Use deep containers with adequate drainage, and mount them on wheels to make it easier to take advantage of varying light as summer progresses. Above all, stop looking at the tomato patch as a supermarket produce section where the fruit appears only as required. Outside under the hot sun, through irregular rain showers and storms, and at the mercy of pests and competing weeds, the tomato plants are taking their own sweet time and are subject less to the gardener and more to nature. If it seems like having only two or three plants makes for a Goldilocks garden, where everything has to be just right to get a spread out harvest, or even any ripe tomatoes at all, then diversify and put in more plants in more spaces. What ripe fruits you get will always be better than supermarket tomatoes and well worth the effort, and you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding takers for the surplus in good years.
— Izzy

 

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