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.
Continue reading

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)

Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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?

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW: Here is Where

Here Is Where: Discovering America’s Great Forgotten History
Andrew Carroll
Crown Archetype
2013

It’s a fairly non-descript row house on Brooklyn’s Ryerson St. It only stands out because it’s a three-story building surrounded by two-story homes. But underneath the bland siding is a house that goes back to the 1850s. And in 1855, it’s where Walt Whitman lived while he was between newspaper jobs, and where he wrote and self-published Leaves of Grass [1].

There’s no plaque on the door; presumably the current residents – if they even know about their former tenant – don’t want to be besieged by Whitman groupies or harassed by historical tours. But in a city where all the other Whitman-related buildings and locations have been torn down or built over or otherwise lost over the many decades, shouldn’t it at least be worthy of a sign on the sidewalk?

Continue reading

The Resistance Must Be Branded

During the Second World War, Free French forces and the French Resistance adopted the Cross of Lorraine as their symbol. The famous “peace sign” was first used as a logo for the British Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 50s. The “Black Power” movement of the 60s used the traditional raised fist (a black one, naturally) as a symbol. Women’s Liberation used the fist as well, but put it inside the circle and cross symbol that normally signified women or females. The “Gay Pride” movement chose a rainbow flag to rally around. Earlier this year, millions of women around the world wore pink knit hats to unite the hundreds of marches into one single rally.

If the many different factions that oppose Trump and Trumpism are going to ever unite, they are going to need some sort of sign or symbol to link them together.

Continue reading