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It's not (entirely) about the money

The Koch brothers and their network will spend at roughly the same level as the party campaign committees on the 2016 campaigns.That's news worth thinking hard about, as was the Citizens United decision, as is the entire question of what we define as constitutionally protected "free speech" for a collective -- any collective, not just a corporation -- vs. free speech for individuals. But the more tightly we focus on the influence of money in elections, the more deeply we embed the tacit assumption that the quantity of campaign messages -- the number of broadcast ads, mailings, rallies, robocalls, astroturf committees, etc. -- is what matters. The candidate with the bigger budget always wins, we assume, or at least wins more often than s/he would given equal resources.

I'm not saying that assumption is wrong. But I'm not comfortable with it, either, because of the other assumptions that go with it. It implies that the qualitative content of political messages doesn't matter -- that voters' choices are driven by how many messages from Candidate X they see and hear,, not by fewer but more cogent, persuasive messages from Candidate Y. It implies that campaign advertising outweighs following and reflecting on the the news... talking politics with friends... comparing what the candidates say in this ad with what they say in other ads or to other audiences, and what they've said and done in the past.

lt implies passive, stupid voters. And to the extent that your crtitique of money in politics takes that for granted, your democracy has worse problems than Charles and David Koch.

Everything Old is New Again (and Trending)

A 1957 Disney TV program called Our Friend the Atom included a sequence of mousetraps and ping-pong balls modeling a chain reaction (at 8:30 here)



It was stuffy and pedantic, but we loved it -- nobody talked about anything else at school all the next day -- because it was just SO COOL, like a million-domino run.

There have been several re-makes along the way, and now Pepsi has its turn:



OK, I know full well this is cane-waving, get-off-my-lawn, better-back-in-the-day geezer ranting... but the new one feels as if Pepsi's agency doesn't trust it to go viral just because it's cool and fun to watch and much more polished. No, it gets music, and a version 2.0 mirrored recap in Pepsi colors, and that social-media-friendly vibe from the "bookend" sequences of energetic young people setting it up and celebrating afterward (Occupy the Nucleus! Kickstart Fission!) I know they want to earn their money, but this feels like they're pre-emptively having my response for me.

I'm through grumbling now. Carry on.
... as Bishop Berkeley almost noted in "Verses on the Prospect of Planting Art and Learning in America." Check out the network graphs here, and a larger version of the first.

Now, of course, I want more detailed graphs that break out the direction of translation. A-and one on movies and TV, with and without subtitles.

While taking a course in English as a second language in Temple's M.Ed program, I learned more about the English First Foundation and other organizations that are in a perpetual lather about All Those Immigrants Who Want Bilingual Accommodation And Will Bury Our Culture in Icky Foreignness Because They're Too Lazy to Learn the Way My Great-Great-Grandparents Did.

It's a classic moral panic, impervious to the evidence that (1) immigrants to the US today learn English faster than their predecessors, and (2) the poor beleaguered English language -- Mandarin and Hindi notwithstanding -- continues its 200-year roll as, global, uhh, lingua franca.

Civis romanus sum and SPQR too, beyotches!

In loyalty to our kind

In the early 1960s I read John Wyndham's The Chrysalids, a 1955 science fiction novel set in a post-apocalyptic rural Labrador with a warmer climate. Presumably in the wake of nuclear war, the culture is one of "genetic fundamentalism,"desperately holding the line against the mutated animals -- and children -- that keep popping up. Not surprisingly, the author of The Midwich Cuckoos (filmed as Village of the Damned) gives us the advent of tomorrow's telepathic super-kids. Near the end, one of them calmly states the inevitability of confrontation with the normals: "In loyalty to their kind, they cannot tolerate our rise. In loyalty to our kind, we cannot tolerate their obstruction."

In 1968, Jefferson Airplane (with Wyndham's permission) recast the story in "Crown of Creation." Midway through, singer Grace Slick delivers those lines, with "rise" changed to "minds," in her best oracle/priestess tone -- and whoa, did it go down well with us new-consciousness youth, now aka smug Boomers.

Beresford's The Hampdenshire Wonder, Olaf Stapledon's Odd John, Van Vogt's Slan, Dune, enduring SF and comix tropes all the way up through the next X-Men: we do love to turbocharge adolescent "Get out of the way, Gramps!" into historical inevitability. Back it up with Marx or Darwin, hot romanticism or cool technocracy: the old order passeth, and there is nothing new under the sun.

It wasn't just the Stingers

A bit of blowback from Anand Gopal's No Good Men among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes:

The war [against the USSR 1979-1990] revolutionized the very core of rural culture. With Afghan schools destroyed, millions of boys were instead educated across the border in Pakistani madrassas, or religious seminaries, where they were fed an extreme, violence-laden version of Islam. Looking to keep the war fueled, Washington—where the prevailing ethos was to bleed the Russians until the last Afghan—financed textbooks for schoolchildren in refugee camps that were festooned with illustrations of Kalashnikovs, swords, and overturned tanks. One such edition declared: “Jihad is a kind of war that Muslims fight in the name of God to free Muslims.… If infidels invade, jihad is the obligation of every Muslim.” An American text designed to teach children the Farsi alphabet began:
Aleph [is for] Allah; Allah is one
Bey [is for] Baba (father); Father goes to the mosque
Tey [is for] Tofang (rifle); Javed obtains rifles for the mujahedeen
Jeem [is for] Jihad; Jihad is an obligation. My mom went to the jihad.

You go, guys

Coleman croppedGuth croppedLinde cropped

The late Sidney Coleman. Alan Guth and Andrei Linde, fathers of inflationary cosmology, at the Shelter Island II physics conference in 1983. My brother and I videotaped it, and I interviewed participants, for the American Institute of Physics archives.

The idea was only about three years old then; it's taken another 31 years to get the first really compelling observational evidence. These theorists would be the first to acknowledge the work of many others in (1) teasing testable predictions from the theory, and (2) setting up observations (in Antarctica, with an infrared sensor far colder than the landscape) to test one of those predictions.

Some answers are well worth waiting for.

Roots

I grew up without much knowledge of my ancestry beyond my father's parents in Maine and my mother's from Texas and Illinois. Once in my teens, I went to New Brunswick with my paternal grandmother; her parents had come from Canada to Maine about 1890, so she had cousins around Newcastle, NB. I'm still hazy about whether they were my second -> Nth cousins or cousins once ->Nth removed, but I did learn that that Williston lineage traced back to a Loyalist who had gone to Canada in the 1780s rather than remain in the newly independent US.

On the other side, I learned (also hazily) that my mother's mother's parents had taken part in the Oklahoma land rush around 1889 -- either as Boomers who entered the territory then, or as Sooners who had sneaked in earlier. And my second great-grandmother was native American (Cherokee and/or Choctaw) -- a source of some embarrassment to my grandmother, but of positive interest to us in the 1960s and after.

That was about it until ten years ago, when my parents died. My brother and I did some preliminary digging with Family Tree Maker software. We found a long chain of Davises, already established by some Mormon researcher, that took the line back to arrival in Massachusetts from England in the early 17th century, and let it slide until another burst of activity recently. Online genealogical work has become much more productive in the interval, as the software and the Ancestry.com website now work together to trawl for possible connections between your tree and those published by other users. So we've filled in quite a few more lines, and can summarize to date:

1) Among nearly 300 ancestral names, nobody you've ever heard of. Maybe solid citizens, to judge from length and concentrations of residence, but so far not one who made it into history books. (OK, sure, I'm probably descended from some king or other, but past a few centuries back so is everyone else.)

2) Aside from that Canadian loop and the native American "blood," almost all arrived relatively early and (going by names) were WASPs or WASPish. There's not much sign of the big 19th- and early 20th-century waves of immigration: Irish, German, Italian, central/eastern European. Most we've identified were here by the 18th century or before.They also tended to move slowly, staying several generations in each place. By the time of the Civil War the Crane (maternal) side had reached a line from Texas to Illinois, and stopped there.

3) On current trends, this part of the clan isn't going to take over the world any time soon. My sons grew up with just two first cousins, as did I; my parents had one or two each. If we had family reunions, they'd be tiny.         

Trivia for the day

For the ages, really.



Q: How did Gene Wilder come to play the Waco  Kid in Blazing Saddles?

A:  Wilder had been the #2 choice in casting. He was hastily called in on the second day of filming to replace ...wait for it... Gig Young, who'd been having DTs on the set on the first day.


(A Western movie binge? Nah: after seeing the 2007 3:10 to Yuma I ordered the 1957 version to refresh my memory, heard Frankie Laine sing its title theme, went to the Web to verify that he'd done numerous other songs for Westerns including Blazing Saddles, followed another link for the latter, and bingo. See how much you can learn when you no longer trust your memory?)

Bobby Fischer

Edward Rothstein in the NY Times: "...as Bobby Fischer's death on Thursday might remind us, even abstract gifts can exact a terrible price."

Many of the commentaries assert or presume that there must have been a connection between Fischer's genius and his eccentricities (or paranoid schizophrenia, take your pick). Why should the combination be more than coincidence? Substantial research suggests that high-functioning people in all domains experience less mental illness than average. So was there ever any logic to Dryden's

Great wits are sure to madness near allied
And thin partitions do their bounds divide


beyond a visceral (envious?) insistence on balance or payback? Surely some of it is no more than an upscale, cognitive version of the tabloids' barely suppressed satisfaction that Michael Jackson or Britney Spears is, y'know, really weird and unhappy.

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montedavis
Monte Davis

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