Terror attacks on great cities – a rumination

I’ve been struggling with thoughts about the Paris attacks. I have a few old school friends who live there, and I am still getting “safe” message via Facebook.

Standing in solidarity is easy. The next step, what should happen now, is hard. Some responses don’t require any deep understanding of the perpetrators – for example, the police should find them and they should be put in the justice system and tried. From that point of view, they broke laws and should suffer consequences.

Foreign policy responses demand more thought, and that’s painful for a lot of people – even talking about it in a sober way seems like a betrayal, like you’re not angry enough. What, are you on their side or something?!

There’s a good question about whether there should even be a “foreign-policy response”. France has already said it was an act of war, which indicates that retaliation is being planned. This cheers me, but that’s an emotional response, and not very smart.

The right-of-center response is simple – everything we’ve done throughout history is fine, when the West takes over a country by force of arms, we did them a favor, and if they fight back they must be crushed. Basically, the attitude is that we’re better, we know best, and they should be thankful for the paved roads.

The lefty response, which I’ve already heard from some friends, is that we should do nothing (apart, I suppose, from the local police response), the premise being, I think, that we always screw these things up and make them worse. Ironically, this is the flip side of the right-wing notion about government action in the domestic sphere. Someone smarter and more energetic than me should write a long-form about that… (Adam Gopnik? He can write about anything well)

The left-of-center response to this kind of thing is burdened by the idea that nations should not adventure – that’s the colonial urge, and it must be checked. There’s the notion that these peoples/nations that were invaded and colonized by Western powers had their own valuable culture going, and that we stomped all over it, and stole their labor and resources, creating permanent harm. There is some acknowledgement that the mixing of peoples produces valuable and beautiful cultural artifacts, and that mixing of peoples will usually be colored by power struggles, often armed. But central is the idea that no cultures are better than others, and that, therefore, colonization is merely aggression and war and should be regarded negatively as such. Yes, sometimes the attitude is that cultures are not equal, that Western culture is worse than others, but I consider that a distraction and I feel free to ignore that attitude and those that espouse it.

I love my culture of Beethoven, kaffee mit schlag, Gauloises, opera (even the boring ones), lederhosen, cubism, cafés, and all things Europäisch – middle-, west-, or east-. One of my dreams is to get an EU passport (Germany? You listening? Ja, ich kan ein bisschen Deutsch sprechen…).

Yes, I judge certain aspects of American culture harshly, but I’m wary of being on the Mikado’s little list, loving “All centuries but this and every country but his own.” I think I understand where the yen for industrializing all things comes from – this country’s growth was spectacular, and there is a whole generation of folk who did well in good times and think they’re geniuses. That kind of self-righteous confidence is hard to dent, and is the iron core of the GOP. I subscribe to the notion (voiced on the left almost exclusively) that the stupendous growth was based on, basically, mugging Africans and Native Americans and stealing their stuff, and saying, hey look what I built by the sweat of my brow and the clarity of my moral stance. It’s kind of nauseous to think about.

The poles of this are Ta-Nehisi Coats on the side that White American wealth is stolen goods, and on the right by the ridiculous Ann Coulter, with her notion of her people not being immigrants but “settlers.” BTW, I’d love to know details of that – where they the settlers whose way was cleared of pesky natives by the US Army? Whose land was it that they “settled?”

And then there is Israel – colonial settler nation, and therefore not sympathetic? A nation like any other that was created by the international law at the time, and therefore perfectly OK? My feelings were well-expressed by a conversation on Warren Olney’s To the Point, where Dennis Ross faced off against Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. The Ambassador said that in the entire Middle East, Israel is the only country that has institutions, democracy, separation of power, etc. Mr. Munayyer reminded him that there are lots of people under Israel’s unelected control who are not protected by those institutions.

[side note: every time I listen to one of those discussions, it seems to come down to two arguments:

  • Did Isreal really offer the Palestinian Authority a good deal, under Ehud Olmert, and was it rejected by the Palestinians, and was that rejection evidence that all the Palestinians want, really, is the elimination of Israel? See here for details.
  • Did the PA accept, formally, Israel’s right to exist as a secure, Jewish state? Palestinians say, how many times do we have to do this? The idea here is that all Israel wants is to cynically move the goalposts until there is rejection, because there are too many powerful Israelis who prefer the status quo to any two-state solution. See here for some details.]

Running out of steam.


Trying to remember a good Moth story…

I’ve had this story bouncing around my head for a few days. I’d think about it and store it away in my mental filing cabinet for future reference. Thing is, that filing cabinet is notoriously unreliable, and I forgot it. Then I’d remember it, and try to tack a label onto it. But the idea is like the bar of soap in the shower – grab it for a second, and the force of your grab is what makes it pop from your grasp.

Stories with clear beginnings, tidy endings, and some sort of point of view or moral to make it bang around in the listeners’ heads for a while are rare. Mostly we have to fake it. I’ll try a story out on people, in a (mercifully) nano form, and listen to their reactions. Mostly, to be painfully honest (the pain is mine), I don’t even get through my story before someone starts talking about something else entirely. Which is itself a useful result, I suppose, if not ego-supporting.

  • There’s the story of my dad and the bogus VCR bargain, which has the lesson that your parents are flawed human beings.
  • There’s the story of Oleg in the bathtub, which I’ve used already. The lesson is what it takes to be an adult.
  • There’s the story of being coerced into typing a letter to my grandmother when I was 12 and had nothing to say, in Hollywood. This is the story of appreciating your parents even at their worst.

But this story, I have such a hard time remembering it. When I do, by the time I get to a spot where I can record it, it’s gone. I know, smartphones… I’ll try again.

Waze vs. Garmin vs. ideal GPS app

  1. I wish my Garmin device would use the Waze software. I like having a dedicated device (i.e., not my phone), but Waze is so much smarter than Garmin…
  2. At least on my Garmin, I can request the fastest route or the shortest route (I don’t think Waze offers me these customizations). But why can’t I request the simplest route (fewest turns), the straightest route (i.e., staying in the same direction; my wife hates feeling that we are deviating from the arrow of our travel), or even the prettiest route? Prettiness should certainly be a characteristic of roads.
  3. Waze, famously, will sometimes ask you to make a left turn at a stop sign onto a busy street, so you’re stuck there, waiting for a gap, peering around giant SUVs and sweating. God forbid you have a passenger asking why the hell you took this crazy route. Saying, “Waze told me to” is generally reacted to with an irritated snort.
  4. When I give Waze a new location, it reacts differently every time… I haven’t figured out the pattern yet. Sometimes it tells me that it has added it to my scheduled list (or something weird like that), sometimes not. Why?

An atheist thinks about… Who Created God?

Or (a better question) how was God created? Better because it may not have been a “person” but a mindless process of some kind…

Why is an atheist even thinking about this issue? Because I like myth and story, and exploring a logical construct that smart people have been fiddling with for thousands of years can only be a good thing. Like learning math.

As to the question, generally the question is answered by simply defining God as that which required no creator. But, come on, that’s lame. That’s just a way to shut people up and stop them asking questions. Bertrand Russel, in Why I Am Not a Christian, put it best when he said that if you assume the universe must have had a creator, why not the same of God? And if you insist God did not need any creation, why not assume the same about the Universe?

There has been some interesting thought in the last few years on the possibility of the universe being a simulation. In that case, who is the creator? The alien programmer? The alien kid who bought the alien TRS80 in the alien Radio Shack, and loaded up the UniverSim program and created us? Or do we have to go back to THAT universe’s creation?

Let’s face it – we are ill equipped to think about deep time and space and large numbers. We survived because we were good at selecting the less-poisonous berries, running away from saber-tooth tigers, and reproducing, not because we could ponder the nature of Time, Space, and Everything.

So our intuition that time is a line, has a Beginning and an End, is probably unreliable.

When I read Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time, I got the feeling (again, probably unreliable) that Hawking was claiming that the universe was boundless in the direction 90 degrees from time, and that the beginning and end were like the south and north poles. Asking what’s south of the south pole is merely a badly formed question.

But interesting to think about.

One Calendar to Rule them All…

On my Android device (made by Google) I could effortlessly add an Exchange (i.e., work) calendar and see my personal and work calendars ON ONE SCREEN, as god intended.

On Google Calendar (also, presumably, made by Google) you can not do this and must jump through all kinds of hoops with syncing apps or publishing Outlook calendars to WebDAV sites (wha?) or something, none of which work!

I call that broken. I want my work calendar on my Google calendar. And it’s 2015, so I should be able to get that.

Picture-hanging technology

I just hung 6 pictures in a pattern, and I have to say, picture-hanging technology needs to catch up with the rest of the western industrialized world. What you need is to arrange the pictures in the computer, and then using come kind of projector, project spots where the nails go.

And nails are terrible! They leave holes. I’ve tried those hook-and-loop 3M things, but if the weather gets hot, they just dissolve. Useless! Except maybe in New England… with global warming, not even there. It was such a promising technique – they came off sort of cleanly (not perfectly though – I’ve had a couple of them pull paint off), and you could reposition. Also, they show from the side, and are quite obvious. So, terrible.

Somebody, please figure this out. I’d pay for a solution.

Why does web browsing suck so much now?

Between pop-up windows, prevention of pop-up windows, hideous ads featuring skin diseases, creepy little animations, videos with sound that you can’t stop, video ads that crash, crashing your whole browser, inappropriate sexual clickbait, advertisers who have no concept of “appropriate”, and constant software updates, simple web browsing has become a hideous chore.

Mention of Peter Basch in Marvel’s Bullpen Bulletin Dec 1970

Can’t believe I found this! Thanks to the Marvel Comics Bullpen Bulletins Index, and my editor’s eye (astigmatic, but indefatigable), see it below (thanks to the folks who compiled this index for their permission). You’ll see my dad mentioned in the left column. And see my prior post for the picture of Stan Lee he shot on that occasion!

I didn’t notice it at the time (that is, when I was 14), but Kenneth Koch, the famous poet is mentioned at the top of the column. I have a poem in his book, Rose, Where Did You Get that Red. He came to my school, the Lycée Français de New-York, and taught a workshop where we wrote poems in both French and English, inspired by Verlaine’s Voyelles.

Bullpen Bulletin Dec 1970

Marvel Comics Bullpen Bulletin Dec 1970

My dad’s photo of Stan Lee

Back in the day, in what we now call “mid-century,” my late father, the photographer Peter Basch, would glance quizzically at me and what I was doing and wonder what was going on in this strange foreign country that was his son.

He saw that I was enthusiastic about Mattel toys, such as Creepy Crawlers  and Vacuform, so he bought stock in it. (He liked to buy stock in individual companies, and even liked to keep stock certificates)

He saw that I enjoyed Marvel Comics, especially X-Men and Spiderman, so he thought, huh, maybe other people like that stuff, too. So in his energetic and entrepreneurial way, he went over to the Marvel offices and took some pictures. I remember how excited I was to see a mention of my dad in the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins (I think that’s what it was called). I had heard that my dad was well-known, but seeing it the pages of The Fantastic Four made it real for me. Can anyone help me figure out which month it was in? I’d be grateful. It had some joke about how we’d see pictures of Stan the Man on post office walls.

Here’s the picture I have of Stan Lee (note our brand-new registered trademark!):

Stan Lee by Peter Basch®

Stan Lee in the 60s, photographed by Peter Basch

Mad Max (1979) after seeing Mad Max: Fury Road

I just saw Fury Road with my stepson. He wanted to know about the George Miller oeuvre, so I suggested we watch the movie that spawned it all, the 1979 Mad Max.

Very interesting to see the little hints that remain in the current movie, such as guys using high bendy poles to land on top of cars. Anthony Lane speculates that the notion comes from Buster Keaton. Cool!

The most hilarious part of the old Mad Max is the terrifying biker gang. What, apparently, is so terrifying about them is that they are slightly fey. Homoeroticism seems to be code for deviancy, which is code for danger. I mean, my god, some of them seem to be wearing eye shadow! Who knows what a man wearing eye shadow is capable of! But the way they caper and dance after getting off their bikes, or pose artistically while setting up for a victim, rather undercuts their supposed deadliness. My stepson said that they seem more like a traveling theater troupe than any biker gang he ever saw. They reminded me of the Anglo Saxon Messenger in Through the Looking Glass.

Hey, for $2.99 on Amazon, and at 90 minutes, it’s worth reviewing.