Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Indefensible

Out on the playground, I deal with a lot of "he said, she said." There are plenty of instances in which, as I approach another youngster with their sobbing accuser close behind me, that the kid will loudly announce "I didn't do nothin'." And so the negotiation begins.
"He hit me," sobs the sobber.
"No I didn't!" screeches the accused.
"Yes you did!" screeches the sobber.
"No I didn't!" sobs the accused.
And so it went, once upon a time. Over the past few years I have modified this process in the interest of saving time and energy. It doesn't take an expert in child behavior and psychology to determine just how real the tears are. Lower lip out by itself without any tear duct production? Runny nose to complement real tears? It's observable. And so is the relative guilt of the alleged assailant. Which is why I ask this question: "What does this kid have to gain by making something like this up?" They want justice, as it is dispensed on the playground.
In the grown-up world, when someone gets hit, or insulted, or demeaned, or harassed, they don't have a teacher in an orange vest to go to. They go to the police. Or the courts. Or the media. The media is where I found Ronald Reagan's son, Michael, sobbing the following: "If women are going to wear low cut dresses that show cleavage don't be harassed when we men look. Or should we sue for sexual arousal?" 
Oh, Michael. I don't think you understand exactly what the problem is. Even more obvious from his more direct defense of Bill O'Reilly: "Hot Chocolate used to be a compliment on your looks today it is called sexual harassment." 
When kids hit their little counterparts on the playground, they will invariably defend their actions by telling me that they were "just playing." Like that punch in the stomach was a compliment. Or those tawdry comments in the workplace. There doesn't need to be a negotiation here. There shouldn't be a negotiation. It's not a negotiation. It's not right to hurt other people.
End of conversation.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Low Hanging Fruit

When "President" Trump was elected, the nominal silver lining was that the gift was for comedians. Such a wealth of material. Bankrupt billionaire, reality TV star and former USFL team owner becomes leader of the Free World. Hysterical, right. It is the very epitome of the old saying, "This stuff writes itself."
Which turns out to be the problem. These days it hardly feels like work to make fun of the idiocy that spews forth from Washington. It doesn't take a David Frye or Key and Peele's Anger Translator to poke fun at the Oval Office goings-on. For several minutes the other day, I sat and stared at the picture of Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, and Sarah Palin hanging around the desk of the aforementioned "President." I was trying to come up with a joke to go along with the photo. Some sort of amusing caption that would set the scene in some sort of comedic way. Providentially, there was no way to move past the inherent humor of the scene. It was made that way.
And this kind of silliness is taking place every single day.
The "President" appoints his millionaire buddies to cabinet positions and invites his nutty model daughter and his son-in-law the real estate guy to become his closest advisers. The laughter ensues. The yuks continue as the "President" threatens the nut-job running North Korea with "an armada" that just  happens to be heading  the wrong way. Oh stop! You're killing me!
Add to this the adventures of his pinhead sons and you have some comic relief from all the comedy. Like how Donald Junior decided to go help out the campaign of a Republican congressional candidate in Montana, and go on a prairie dog hunt with him. I promise you that I am not making this up. This is a real thing that happened and requires absolutely no additional information to make it funny.
Or incredibly sad.
In the past few months, people have been saying how Saturday Night Live has really found its edge again. Brilliant writing? Pitch-perfect acting? Accurate transcription. Comedy doesn't need us anymore. All we need to do is point. And laugh.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Alternative Fractals

It's not really a surprise when things turn out the way you might expect them to happen. That's the kind of thing we call "obvious." Still, there is a whole line of thought that is dedicated to expecting the unexpected: Chaos Theory. This may go a long way toward explaining such anomalies as The Mystery Spot, where gravity is all askew. And then there's the Butterfly Effect, in which a butterfly can flap its wings in San Juan, Puerto Rico and a polar bear at the Arctic Circle looks up and says, "Did somebody just open the door?"
Or something like that. 
These days, if you're looking for Chaos, search no further than Berkeley, California. Gravity tends to work pretty much the way you might expect it, but there are plenty of other phenomena that periodically defy explanation. Like why did the University of California invited conservative fussbudget Milo Yiannopoulous to speak on campus last January. As one of the vortex points of left wing thought, and fiercely proud of it, it makes no real sense. Unless the predicted outcome of a night of burning dumpsters and broken windows was the wish of organizers in anticipation of the event. What would happen if we put the porcupine in charge of the balloon factory? It could be that the whole process was set up as an experiment to see if suddenly up was down and left was right and everything we know is wrong. That would go a long way toward proving Chaos Theory. 
Which may explain why Trump supporters scheduled a rally last week in downtown Berkeley. Not for the first time. The natural consequence being, of course, that the balloons didn't last very long. Over the past few months, disorder has become a regular state of being there. "What would happen if" seems to be the way things get planned. What would happen if we dropped conservative meanie Ann Coulter into this fray? We can probably guess by now, but maybe we won't need it to be experimentally proved. The city and university have agreed that this might not be the right time for such a test of the emergency response teams. 
But did that stop the chaos wheel from turning in its barely predictable manner? Nope. Ms. Coulter has told the Campus Republicans to expect her on Thursday as planned. "I feel like the Constitution is important, and that taxpayer-supported universities should not be using public funds to violate American citizens’ constitutional rights." It's a free speech thing, don'tcha know. She told her hosts "to  spare no expense in renting my speaking venue - part of my legal damages." Who knows what will happen on Thursday? Perhaps voices from both sides will be heard and respected. Perhaps there will be a peaceful gathering with an exchange of ideas that will lead to more understanding and an eventual common ground that can be established. 
Or perhaps there will just be civil unrest of some sort. You never know. 
Or do we?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sex Sells, Sexual Harassment Does Not

The king is dead. Long live the king. The king of "the no-spin zone" was fired after weeks, or years, of speculation. How many complaints? How many women would have to come forward to say that they had unwanted advances and comments lobbed at them by the king? How many complaints needed to be lodged? The bottom line, one might expect was human decency.
Or cash money.
Since 2004, Fox News has paid out more than thirteen million dollars in settlements to the victims of Bill O'Reilly's sexual harassment. I'll just go ahead and presume guilt because I am not an officer of the court. Well, unless you count the court of public opinion, for which I consider myself judge, jury and elocutionist. Line up to take your swings at Mister O'Reilly's legacy now, since he could be creeping back into the public eye at any minute. Within hours of the announcement that Bill was being let go by the network that supported him and his vitriol after twenty-one years, speculation about where he might pop up again, Back to CBS? Back to ABC? How about some other alt right outlet looking for some star power?
Considering the way big advertisers leaped off the O'Reilly boat starting at the beginning of April, it's hard to imagine that anyone would want to take on a big salary that wouldn't guarantee big revenues to cover that big paycheck. It is not what most would consider to be a good investment. At this moment, there are those who are lauding Bill's former employer for "doing the right thing." Rupert Murdoch never made a decision that was driven by public sentiment. He's a bottom line guy. How else could the way the Simpsons toss shade at their corporate bedfellows on such a regular basis without some sort of purge or creative crackdown? Homer and his little yellow family make money. They have big name advertisers. They may make meals out of the hand that feeds them, but if their Fox handlers can continue to pay for prosthetic limbs, keep it coming.
By contrast, the weasels at Fox (forgive the mixed metaphor) found themselves standing over the trap holding their fallen star and they gnawed his leg off to free him. Missing that foot may make it harder to keep from spinning, but my guess is that he will always drift to the right.
For now, enjoy turning on your television just a little more, but keep an eye out for The Bill Show, sponsored by Jello.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

In The Warm California Sun

There has been, in the twenty-five years since I moved here, a number of cries for California to secede from the Union. This secessionist talk has roots that reach back as far as the nineteenth century, before the left coast had even become a state or three. All of the things that make the north, south and central regions unique have been held up as reasons to break the state up into pieces are also the things that give it such formidable potential if it were to hang together as its very own republic. A peek at the words below that big bear on the flag lets you know that the Golden State is only a bit of legislation away from becoming its own nation.
Recently, there has even been a clever name attached to this movement: Calexit. Catchy, but perhaps a little too reminiscent of Caltrans, which also has its own challenge keeping their organization distinct from other trans groups. This is 2017, after all. Which also means that the potential for one of the world's largest economies with a population larger than many countries to skip off on their own as real and true.
Could this really happen? If the dark blue on the map shown during all those discussions of red and blue states can be believed, California, along with Oregon and Washington, could form their own coastal coalition and make their way into becoming the next pot-smoking bleeding heart tech savvy region on the planet. We could all become the Netherlands of the Pacific. We could lead the way in preparing for the first annual Hunger Games. Except in that vision of the future, we would all be underwater.
Okay, so maybe there are a couple other things working against this plan. Like the big red swaths that show up on closer examination of the deep blue California. That and the fact that the most recent leader of this exodus, Louis Marinelli, has decided to chuck it all and move to Russia.  Dosvedanya, Lou. Along with his departure, the revelation that a good deal of the funding and support for the Yes California campaign comes from Russia, this makes all this Red and Blue talk even more confusing. So, for now we'll stay put. We're not going anywhere. Physically, anyway.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Persona

Once you crawl way out on a limb, and you realize the mountain lion is still pursuing you up the tree, what other choices do you have but to saw of the limb? Well, you could try reasoning with the mountain lion. "Sorry I stumbled into your territory, I apologize for bringing my human-stink within the range of your most excellent senses." Or you could do what Alex Jones did and ask your lawyer to convince the mountain lion that you aren't really a human after all. You're a performance artist pretending to be a human. 
Problem solved. 
In case you missed it, Mister Jones is currently in the midst of a raging custody battle with this estranged wife Kelly over their three children. It is Ms. Jones (not to be confused with "Mother Jones") contention that the on-air rants of her strange and estranged husband are evidence of Alex not being a "stable father." Stable. Rhymes with table. Something upon which you could set things without fear that they would end up on the floor or in therapy for a dozen years. I confess that until this story came to light, I had not considered the collateral damage of being the wife or offspring of such a persona. "Daddy's going to work now. If you hear me on the radio making stuff up about those poor little kids in Connecticut being shot, remember: It's just daddy's job." 
We can only hope that he waited for the spittle to dry before he kissed them goodnight. 
Meanwhile, back in the courtroom, attorney Randall Wilhite said that using his client's on-air persona to judge him as a father would be like judging Jack Nicholson in a custody dispute based on his performance as the Joker in Batman. I don't know about you, but if I was arguing the case against Jack, I might bring up his choice of roles, though I might have started with Jack Torrance in The Shining
So Alex Jones is a performance artist. Does this mean we can all stop taking him so seriously? I'm okay with that. Does that also mean that Stephen Colbert can sue him?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Our Best Minds

Why don't people like scientists? Because they never bring you any good news. The polar ice caps are melting. You can get cancer from just about everything. There is no such thing as Big Foot. Okay, that last one may turn out to be good news if you happen to to harbor fears of being attacked by Sasquatch, but mostly it really isn't what we want to hear. Please don't call us until you find the secret to molecular transport or a cure for the common cold. 
Did they listen? No. They're scientists. They're far too busy discovering things and blabbing about them as if we could all use this worrisome knowledge. Like this group out of Princeton who recently published a study in Science magazine, they found out that if people teach machines how to be human, then they end up acting like humans. Pretty cool so far, right? This Artificial Intelligence uses big batches of words and analyzes them along with their uses in all kinds of places, including Al Gore's Internet. The AI then sets about making connections to words and phrases and assigning meaning to them that helps generate "human" responses. A simple example? “Flower” is more likely to be associated with “pleasant” than “weapon” is. That, of course, makes perfect sense. What makes less sense is how the trained AI also had a habit of associating typically Caucasian-sounding names with other things that it considered to be “pleasant,” rather than African-American names. The AI also shied away from pairing female pronouns with mathematics, and instead often associated them with artistic terms. 
Whoops. The AI seems to be racist and sexist. This opens a whole case of worm cans, all of which threaten to wriggle out onto the floor and make the future as big a mess as our present. Or worse. The good news? This study may go a long way to explain the temperament of Arnold Schwarzenegger. Maybe we should send some scientists over to his house for a couple weeks to keep an eye on him. Maybe this will help them on some of those other worries they have us going on about. Or maybe they just discovered this to make us fret some more. Maybe Skynet is too self-aware.