Festina Lente

Now that a Special Counsel has been appointed, the cries of “Impeach!” have died down a bit. Having the president out of the country playing with a palantir helps, too. We can all stop, catch our breath, and consider just what it is we are asking for with an impeachment.

You can look up the details of the impeachment process and history just as easily as I can, so I’ll leave that to you.

However, given the situation in Congress, and that Vice President Mike Pence may be caught up in the scandal, it’s worth it for the liberals / Democrats to come up with a long-term strategy. Something other than a simple “Get Trump out as soon as possible” plan.

Should Trump be removed from office, VP Pence becomes President, and he gets to nominate someone to take over as VP. That person must be confirmed by a simple majority vote in both houses of Congress before taking office. Although they are fractured, the Republicans still control both the House and Senate at the present time. It should be considered highly likely that they will force the selection of someone easily pliable, and able to help push through their agenda. The same outcome would happen if Pence is forced out first, and Trump (guided by the GOP) gets to “nominate” a replacement.

If Trump *and* Pence are both run out on the same rail, then Speaker of the House Paul Ryan becomes Acting President – and everything goes bonkers. The Constitution gives absolutely no guidelines on what happens then. Are special elections held right away? What powers does he have? Who takes his place in the House? Who becomes Acting VP? Whatever happens, the Republicans still control Congress, so they will basically have all the cards in this situation.

Arguably the best thing for the Democrats to do would be to let the investigation proceed and the evidence accumulate until the 2018 mid-term elections (Note that it took a year after the first try at a resolution of impeachment before Nixon finally resigned). They can then use the scandal – and the prospect of impeachment – as the driving issue in the campaign. Don’t give the Republicans time to recover and regroup. If they aren’t totally inept, the Democrats should be able to take control of the House. And with a little luck, the Senate as well. That will put them in a great position to control the agenda for the remaining two years, and set them up well for the 2020 election.

In the meantime, they can be the principled opposition, and block everything evil that Trump and the GOP try to do. While it’s tempting to kick Trump out as soon as possible, we probably don’t want to leave his enablers in power. Let Trump and the GOP destroy themselves while continuing to mitigate the damage. It won’t be easy to keep the radical left (the ones chanting “Lock him up!”) in line, but if patience helps get rid of the worst / most reactionary elements in the GOP, it will be worth it in the end.

Unless, of course, Trump’s offenses are shown to be so egregious that we cannot afford to keep him in office one day longer.

 

#Resist

The Eurovision Camp Factor – II

Well, another Eurovision has come and gone. Portugal’s Salvador Sobral won everyone over with his passionate love song, “Amar Pelos Dios”.

But of course, no one watches it for the songs, right? You all want to see wacky staging and crazy costumes!

A few weeks ago, I posted a “Eurovision Camp Factor” scale, setting up scores from 1 (a basic, straightforward performance) to 10 (way over the top in everything). How did the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest turn out?

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In Defense of James Comey

One could say it was all the fault of Loretta Lynch.

As Attorney General, she should have known better than to have a private meeting – no matter how brief – with Bill Clinton when she was in the middle of overseeing an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails.

But she blew it, and had to pass the buck to FBI Director James Comey.

Under normal circumstances, Comey would have wrapped up the investigation and handed everything over to Lynch, along with a recommendation, for her to make the final decision. But now, Comey was thrust into the limelight. He, in effect, would have to make the final decision as to whether or not to bring any indictments on Clinton.
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Cinco de Mayo

I haven’t been seeing much in the way of advertising this year for any Cinco de Mayo festivities or promotions. Perhaps it has to do with the current socio-political environment, or maybe I just haven’t been looking in the right places.

Be that as it may, the holiday is in effect “Mexican-American Day”, just as “Juneteenth” and “Columbus Day” are “African-American Day” and “Italian-American Day”.

Those gringos who think it marks Mexican Independence Day are way off. That happened on Sept. 16, 1810, when – taking advantage of Spain’s preoccupation with Napoleon – Fr. Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla made the first cry of revolt against the hated Gachupines (native Spaniards) in the village of Dolores. Eleven years later, the Treaty of Córdoba (signed on August 24, 1821) completed the War of Independence.

This holiday actually commemorates the Battle of Puebla in 1862. A weak Mexican government found itself heavily in debt to European countries. Britain and Spain negotiated a settlement plan, but France decided to invade and seize control of the country. Outnumbered by roughly three to one, the Mexican Army dealt the French invaders a stunning defeat.

It’s not so much an “independence day” as it is a “coming of age” celebration (a Quinceañera, if you will) for the country, as it marked their first real victory over a foreign power.

So share some tequila with your friends and neighbors (and friendly neighbors), and and celebrate how much of what makes America great is that we’ll welcome anyone, especially if you bring something to the party.

Presidents Barack Obama (US) and Enrique Peña Nieto (Mexico) enjoying tequila in 2013. Photo by White House Photographer Pete Souza

Eurovision: The Camp Factor

Another Eurovision approaches, and commentators here in the US are, if they talk about Eurovision at all, will often bring up the “campiness” of the proceedings, and go on in a snarky attitude about how silly the whole thing is.

While it’s true that the show has been campy in the past (thanks in part to scoring rules that tended to favor spectacle), and still gets there occasionally, the acts you see are more like those who would appear as the musical guest on a late night talk show. The performances aren’t really different than what you’d expect to see for an act with a similar career arc (a few years in the business with an album or two under their belt) at a similar venue.

If you insist on watching the show for the campiness and not for the great number of fine performances, here’s a handy 1 – 10 scale for judging the Camp Factor of a performance (with examples from the past five years of Eurovision). There’s no “zero” score (or “nil points”, to use the Eurovision term) for campiness. Simply by association, you get a bit of campiness rubbed off on you.

(lots of embedded videos after the jump)

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The First Hundred Days

Ever since FDR became president – and had to push through a lot of things right away as the economy was in free fall, the “first hundred days” of a presidency has become a sort of “meme” for the press. It really is an arbitrary point; it just happens to be a nice round number that sounds better than “three months”. There’s also the idea of a “honeymoon” period, where the new president can ride the wave of popularity that won him the election to trade some of that free political capital on advancing his agenda and fulfilling a campaign promise or two.

It isn’t really fair to judge a presidency on what amounts to a mere seven percent of a full term. And a lot can change in the country and the world over four years. But it is fair to use it as an estimate, a sort of “probationary period”, of what sort of person is living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. And if the White House staff itself is fully on board with the “100 days” idea, then it’s fair to judge them on it.

So, what have we got?

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MOVIE REVIEW: Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet (1940)

Science and scientists rarely get proper treatment by Hollywood. If they aren’t the stereotypical Mad Scientist creating wacky gadgets or Tampering In God’s Domain, they’re the Absent-Minded Professor who is socially awkward and treated as Comic Relief. Or the Screen Scientist is just in the plot to provide exposition so the other characters (and the audience) can know what’s going on.

Most likely, this lack of respect is simply because if they showed a real scientist, they’d look just like someone in any other field of employment (and behave similarly, no doubt). And if they showed real science, not only would most of the audience not understand it, the “process” of Science is long, tedious, and filled with failure. Not something that makes for a good movie.

Is it any wonder, then, that the best movies about science and scientists tend to be biographies? Continue reading

Science Fiction Short Films

I’ve been a science fiction fan since high school. Not involved in “fandom”, but just a person who appreciates the story-telling potential of the genre. I also enjoy a good short film, as I have already mentioned here.

Science fiction is one genre that a lot aspiring filmmakers work in when they try out their skills. Sometimes, it leads to actual fame. Neill Blonkamp’s Oscar-nominated District 9, for example, was adapted from his short film “Alive in Joburg”.

Two years ago, award-winning animator Don Hertzfeldt released “World of Tomorrow”, a sixteen minute look into a strange future. When it came out, reviewers weren’t just calling it one of the best short films of the year, but one of the best films of the year in general. It was nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Animated Short”, but lost to the more family-friendly and “multiculturally correct” “Sanjay’s Super Team”.

Well, there are awards specific to the science fiction community. Perhaps it won the Hugo Award for “Best Dramatic Presentation – Short Form”. I looked. It wasn’t even nominated. The nominees for 2015 were all TV episodes.

The Hugos are given by fans, so it’s possible not enough of them saw it. Hertzfeldt released it as a “pay per view” item, and I suppose not enough fans wanted to bother coughing up the $3.99 to see it – assuming they even knew about it.

Well, I’m going to a local science fiction convention this weekend. I’m making it my mission to promote the incredible amount of wonderful work being done in short films, that can be seen (for free!) online. Instead of trying to remember names and URLs, or be so crass as to make a handout, I’d do a blog post and then just refer people here.

I don’t want to clog up your monitor, so I’ll give a list of films showing the quality and variety available after the jump.
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On Pitcher’s Wins – II

With baseball season beginning next week, it’s going to be a great relief to have something other than politics to talk about in everyday conversation. Now I could use this opportunity to discuss my picks for the Divisional Champions (Nationals, Cubs, Dodgers, Red Sox, Indians, Astros), but I really haven’t been paying attention to how Spring Training has been going. There are a divisions where things should be interesting (AL and NL East, AL West), but it will probably come down to which team stays the healthiest over the season. And of course once the playoffs begin, it’s almost impossible to predict an outcome.

So what else is there to talk about?

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On Funding the Arts and Sciences

Donald Trump recently announced his proposed budget, and among all the draconian cuts to many small but very beneficial programs, there are the usual cuts demanded by conservatives to arts programs (The National Endowment for the Arts, et al.), and drastic cuts to various science agencies.

I’m not going to get into the many cost-benefit arguments that get tossed around; rather, I’d like to look at another aspect.

Why do these programs get Federal funding anyway?

Let me make my case with two arguments – one literary, and one historical. The former covers the Arts, the latter the Sciences.

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