Category Archives: Current Affairs

HRC vs. BS

Presidential campaigns are a bit like the Christmas shopping “season” – every year, they start a little earlier, run a little longer, get a bit more shrill. I’m left with the feeling that everyone involved is fed up with what campaigns have become, but nobody’s willing to stand up and say, “This is stupid.”

I’ve been observing (from a safe distance) the 2016 campaign, bemused at the degree of self-deception necessary for a candidate to soldier on despite voter support numbers smaller than the polls’ margins of error.

2016 is Hillary Rodham Clinton’s second try for the Oval Office, and – just like 2008 – somebody in her own party is getting in the way. I imagine her thinking, Not this again.

(Who will I vote for? I haven’t decided yet – and suspect that the nominations will already have been settled by the time Illinois holds its primaries on March 15.)

Altitude sickness

The CBC says:

Malaysian police said Wednesday that they have detained four Westerners, including two Canadians, suspected of posing naked at the country’s highest peak last month, just days before an earthquake killed 18 climbers on the mountain.

Last year, it was Machu Picchu; this year, it’s Mount Kinabalu.

What is it with people these days…?

On false dichotomies

Two things in the news have been bouncing around in my head for a while, and I thought I’d opine a bit.

Item #1: The Interview.

Some people made a movie about assassinating Kim Jong Un. When I saw the previews – sitting in a theater, waiting for some other movie to begin – I thought: So dumb. Avoid. And put it from my mind.

(The capacity for self-deception in the television & movie industries never ceases to amaze me. The most egregious tripe makes it on the air, or in the theaters, because nobody involved seems to realize that it is egregious tripe.)

The North Koreans were not so sanguine; they took umbrage. Sony was hacked, possibly by the North Koreans, and cowed into cancelling release of the movie.

A bit later, Sony released it anyway, leading to speculation that the whole kerfuffle was a well-orchestrated publicity stunt for a movie that otherwise wouldn’t have earned back its catering budget.

Somehow, the idea took root that going to see The Interview was taking a stand for freedom of speech, not to mention thumbing one’s nose at a loathsome dictatorship. To me, it just seemed like a waste of two hours.

Item #2: Charlie Hebdo

A French magazine published cartoons satirizing Islam and things Islamic (most notably, the Prophet).

I’m told they satirized everything, not just Islam, but nobody cared much about the rest of it. Most people didn’t care much about any of it, but a few people took umbrage. Two of them – or three, possibly even four; reports from Paris are as yet unclear – staged an armed assault on the Charlie Hebdo editorial office: twelve dead, twenty wounded.

I’ve seen the magazine covers, and the cartoons. Perhaps, if I remembered any of the French I learned in high school, I might have appreciated the satire. I have doubts. The images were so crude & vulgar that I can’t imagine any captioning clever enough to redeem them.

There’s a hashtag on Twitter: #JeSuisCharlie. To the extent that it means No, God doesn’t want you to kill people, I agree with it. (That doesn’t mean you’ll see it on my Twitter account. I don’t do hashtags.) But if it means I’m expected to read the magazine, or agree with / approve of its ‘humor’, in order to express my disapproval of violence & murder – no, thanks.

Freedom of speech is a subtle concept, that trips up people who think life is nothing but simple problems with quick & easy answers. (This particular species of mind-rot typically comes from too much of the wrong kind of tv / radio. Turn off the set and think for yourself. You’ll be a better person for it.)

People are free to make a movie like The Interview, to publish a magazine like Charlie Hebdo. I’m free to think anyone who does has strayed from the path of wisdom.

That doesn’t mean I approve of hacking Sony, or of shooting up the Charlie Hebdo offices. I don’t.

I see no contradiction in that. Just because two people disagree, that doesn’t mean one of them must be right.

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia…

NPR says:

In an unprecedented move, a Saudi advisory council says it approves of lifting a ban on female drivers. The Shura Council proposes that certain restrictions be applied, however: Women must be at least 30, have permission from their male guardian, not wear makeup and drive only in daylight hours….

How very enlightened of the clerics. How progressive.

(I assume that Saudi automobile designers have at last found a solution to the vexatious ovarian damage inflicted by previous model years.)

Vote early, vote often

Sometime when I wasn’t paying attention, Champaign County began offering early voting: it works the same as regular voting, but happens in a different place, days or weeks before Election Day.

Or maybe it’s a statewide thing?

Jennifer & I voted this afternoon, mostly because the logistics of voting on Tuesday were a bit unclear.

I have some general policies for filling out ballots:

Proposed amendments to the state constitution: No. Exhaust legislative remedies first. (California made it too easy to amend the state constitution, and they’ve regretted it ever since.)

Retention of judges: Yes. Unless there’s a good reason – e.g., a pending criminal indictment – to vote No.

Candidates running unopposed: No vote. What’s the point?

How many of these guided today’s oval-filling-in? Ask me again once the polls have closed on Tuesday….

Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby

Much chatter of late regarding the recent US Supreme Court opinion in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby. I haven’t read the opinion – too long, too impenetrable – but that will not stop me from chattering a bit myself:

It’s unfortunate that medical insurance is tied to one’s employer. If individuals could afford insurance without employer assistance, Hobby Lobby’s religious objections to contraception would be moot.

It’s likewise unfortunate that basic medical care is so expensive as to require insurance. Remember when medical insurance was only for catastrophic expenses? When did that change?

Reducing unwanted pregnancies (and/or sexually-transmitted diseases) benefits everyone. Contraception should therefore be cheap and ubiquitous, with no stigma attached to its use. (Bonus points for instilling in young men greater awareness of their responsibilities in this area. If that’s possible.)

Instead of wasting time & energy arguing whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to require employers to provide their employees with medical insurance that covers contraception, perhaps the gov’t should be working to remove employers, insurers and itself from the process altogether.

(I suppose if all that came to pass, we’d be arguing whether the federal government can require doctors & pharmacists to provide contraception. That’s a more difficult question.)


A new online magazine published its first issue this month: it’s called Hot Tech something-or-other, and appears to be a mix of tech journalism and soft-core porn.

I poked around the web site for a few minutes; the pictures I saw were fairly tame – nothing explicit, and no nudity. Just the usual early-twenties bikini models, presenting their hindquarters to the camera. Yes, they’re very nice hindquarters – Thanks for asking! – but it was a bit disconcerting to encounter them on a web site otherwise devoted to cell phones, tablet computers, etc., etc.

As the publishers no doubt expected (and counted on), there was much outrage across the internet.

Am I outraged? I don’t care enough to be outraged. The internet is a place where every dumb idea will be tried, sooner or later; web sites pop up, burn through their VC money, then vanish in a puff of smoke. And so it surely will be with Hot Tech whatever-it-was, despite all the free publicity they’re getting now.

If anyone even remembers the site, this time next year, I’ll be astonished.

Meanwhile, in Peru

The CBC says:

Nude photos or videos taken at Machu Picchu have recently become common on social media and Peruvian officials have called the practice obscene or profane to the sacred site.

If I were 8,000 feet up the Peruvian Andes, part of a tour group visiting Inca ruins, I rather doubt that my first impulse would be to drop trou & pose for a few naked selfies.

Is Machu Picchu the only site that attracts exhibitionists? Does the naked-selfie crowd have a circuit they’re expected to complete? I’m imagining some very weird photo albums out there…“This is my ass at Machu Picchu. And this is my ass at Angkor Wat,” etc., etc.

(I’m a bit skeptical of Machu Picchu’s status as a ‘sacred site’. It’s a ruined city, perched on a mountaintop; it’s a tourist attraction, and any place overrun by tourists – naked or otherwise – surely has lost whatever sacredness it may once have had.)

Think of the ovaries!

The BBC quotes a self-appointed expert on the female anatomy, who says:

“If a woman drives a car, not out of pure necessity, that could have negative physiological impacts as functional and physiological medical studies show that it automatically affects the ovaries and pushes the pelvis upwards,” Sheikh Lohaidan told the news website

…and that’s why women aren’t allowed to drive automobiles in Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, in Cambridge…

The BBC says:

An all-male Cambridge University drinking society has cancelled its annual female-only jelly wrestling contest after it was labelled sexist.

Reading that, I wondered: Why is this sexist?

  • Is it because men were not allowed to participate? (Probably not. I think the point of the protest was that nobody should be allowed to participate.)
  • Is it because women were doing something silly & undignified? (If that constitutes sexism, we’re all in big trouble.)
  • Is it because the silly & undignified acts were done largely for the entertainment of men? (If so, what does that say about ‘male revue’ acts like Thunder From Down Under?)