February 20, 2018

What Does Putin Know?

Donald Trump continues to insist that there has been no “collusion” between his campaign and Russia. If by “collusion” is meant discussion regarding ways in which Russia could help the Trump campaign, wherein all parties had an explicit, shared objective, it may well be the case that there was no collusion. Trump’s assertion that the absence of collusion is an established fact, is simply fake news, however, or yet another instance of alternate reality in which the president indulges.

People rationally suspect some nefarious connection between Trump and Russia because (1) members of the Trump administration have a surprising number of connections to Russia; (2) Trump himself has such connections but regularly denies their existence; (3) Trump has refused to increase sanctions on Russia because of that country’s interference in our electoral process; and (4) Trump is loathe to say anything negative about Russia or Putin and has, in fact, said some very positive things. Yet, anyone who has paid any attention to international affairs in recent years is well aware that Russia is not a nation friendly to the United States.

Of course, Trump seems fond of strongman leaders generally, with the exception of Kim Jong-un. Perhaps Trump is fond of dictators because he envies them. Putin, however, seems to be a special case. I have been perplexed by this, but I now have a working theory to explain it. Putin must have something so damning on Trump that our president dare not anger Putin, lest the Russian leader tell what he knows.

Given what we already know about Donald Trump, Putin’s hole card must be pretty damning indeed.

February 8, 2018

The Trump Parade

I was distressed when I learned that President Trump has asked the Pentagon to stage a military parade in Washington, D.C., at some future time. The president was impressed with the Bastille Day parade he attended in Paris last year. That parade has a long history and, according to The Washington Post, often includes troops of countries other than France. (There were U.S. troops in the parade Trump witnessed, for example.) The Bastille Day parade is a French institution and not simply a display of French militarism.

Trump’s parade is something else. After praising the French procession, the president said, “We’re going to have to try to top it.” Trump, of course, always has to have the very best. The White House suggested that a D.C. parade will give citizens an opportunity to honor our military. One must suspect, however, that the event is less for him or the nation to honor the military than it is for the military to honor him.

Autocrats love their militaries, as the military is the ultimate source of an autocrat’s power. At least for now, the military is not the source of our government’s authority, but the president does enjoy the trappings of dictatorial power. No doubt, Mr. Trump admires Soviet Union and Russian parades and, most likely secretly, those of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as well.

The predominantly military parade is America is an anomaly. Such affairs have been staged mainly to celebrate the successful conclusion of wars, though inaugural parades during the cold war sometimes have had more than token military components.

For Trump, presiding over a military parade would be a demonstration to North Korea and the rest of the world that our military is powerful, that the president’s nuclear button is very big, as it were.

To American citizens, on the other hand, the proposed extravagance is a profligate use of time and money, as well as a distraction of the military from more pressing missions. Americans hardly need additional opportunities to honor the troops; one could easily argue that our military gets more attention than is healthy in a democracy. Do we really need warplane flyovers, military color guards, and ceremonies honoring wounded warriors at sporting events, for example?

To allies and adversaries, the Trump parade will be a sign of increasingly unpredictable and unilateral militarism on the part of the United States. It will be seen as a threat to world peace, discomforting both friends and enemies.

It is my hope that citizen shaming, and perhaps even congressional action, will kill the idea of staging a military parade in Washington so President Trump can say that his parade is bigger than President Macron’s.

January 29, 2018

Why Can’t You Get My Name Right?

My last name is not a common one. I guess you could call it unusual, but, as surnames go, I don’t think it’s weird. It sounds like it looks, as long as you know that in German ie and ei combinations are always pronounced as though the first letter isn’t there. (Think diesel, for instance, or leitmotif.)

I often have to spell my name for someone, either—think about that word and its pronunciatory variations for a moment—in person or over the telephone. I will say “D-E-I-M-E-L,” or, to prevent mishearing, “D-E-I-M, as in Mary-E-L.” The latter form is to prevent may name from coming out Deinel, which sometimes happens.

However carefully I spell my name, people write it down or type it as Diemel as often as not. Apparently, many people have so internalized the i-before-e rule that they write (hear?) ie even when what was said was ei. Meticulous pronunciation is incapable of preventing people from making this error. Sigh!

I was buying light bulbs today at an electrical supply house that stocks a particularly wide variety of lamps. (I’ve been swapping out compact fluorescent bulbs for LED ones.) I don’t have or need an account there, but, for some reason, the company needs a name to put on an invoice. I spelled my name in the usual way. What got typed into the computer was Dimeling.(See below.) I have no idea what combination of aural perception, cognitive processing, and neural communication produced this mangling of my name. The counter man set a new record for faulty transcription!

Light bulb invoice

January 15, 2018

Martin Luther King Day 2018

I heard a report on the radio today that referred to the Civil Rights Era in a way that made it clear that it was viewed as a historical period that ended some time ago. When did it end and why? Surely the Civil Rights Era did not end because all the goals of the civil rights movement were attained. War, poverty, discrimination, and unequal justice are still with us. Moreover, civil discourse no longer is about ending poverty. Instead, we talk about helping the middle class while in fact working only to further enrich the wealthy and sanction discrimination on bogus “religious” grounds.

Such thoughts on this Martin Luther King day inspired the graphic below. Feel free to use it elsewhere as is, except possibly for size.

Today is a good day to think about where we are as a nation and the direction in which we are headed.

January 14, 2018

Make America Democratic Again

Many Americans are asking themselves how we can return to a pre-Trump America, a time when the United States had challenges but did not seem destined to become a fascist plutocracy. It is clear that if the country does not change course by the time of the 2020 presidential election, the American experiment may be finished.

The answer, of course, is that Americans must take back their government, which means that we must throw out Republicans and elect Democrats to Congress in 2018. Given Republican gerrymandering and voter-suppression efforts, this will not be an easy task, but the preservation of our Republic demands it.

To remind us all of what we must do, I offer the graphic below. Readers are free to reproduce it elsewhere without alteration (except for size). Click on the image to see a larger version of it.

Make America Democratic Again

January 12, 2018

Posting Here, There, and Everywhere

When I created this blog, I described the intended content as “Random quick takes by Lionel Deimel.” I expected to be posting brief comments or essays that didn’t seem to justify being added to my Web site, Lionel Deimel’s Farrago. As it happens, many of my “takes” have not been quick at all, that is, they have been anything but brief.

Over the years—I began this blog in 2002—the World Wide Web has undergone many changes. Blogs—and even conventional Web sites—are not as prominent as they once were, having been eclipsed somewhat by social media. The older formats remain important, but visits to them are often mediated by tweets, Facebook posts, or Google searches.

I find myself expressing many of my current “random quick takes” on Facebook, on my own page and, sometimes, on pages of groups of which I am a member or visitor. This guarantees a modest audience, though the reach of such posts usually does not extend beyond the group of people I know. Facebook friends seldom share my posts, however clever. No post has ever gone viral.

Less frequently, I comment on Twitter. My likely audience there is smaller, though I occasionally do get responses from people I don’t know. The tagging system on Twitter makes it marginally more likely that a tweet will be seen by someone I’ve never heard of.

On Facebook, I post items from elsewhere, mostly news items. I also post brief commentaries, either as pure text or as graphics. I also post links to essays on this blog or, less frequently, to essays on my Web site. I tweet similar items, though news items are usually retweets.

Social media are best at communicating that which is of immediate interest. Twitter, for example, has been a boon to journalists, who can track unexpected events as they happen. On the downside,  information quickly dissolves into the fog. On Facebook, for example, I sometimes see two stories in my news feed that I want to pursue, but, after checking out the first, the second has seemingly disappeared. Social media are bad about letting you find something that has not been placed online recently.

Ideas that seem to deserve a half-life of more than a few hours tend to find their way to this blog. To make people aware of my posts, I write about them on Facebook and Twitter. It is easy to find a post here after the fact using Google, the search box at the top of the page, or—few blogs have this—my table of contents. (There are various ways of following what is going on here, which you can explore in the column at the right.)

Material of greater or longer-term interest usually shows up on my Web site. If it is of immediate interest, I may use my blog or social media to call attention to it. Lionel Deimel’s Farrago has its own table of contents.

Actually, all of the foregoing is just prologue to what I really wanted to say here, namely that I intend to be posting more brief comments here, either as text or embedded in graphics, the sort of think I have mostly placed on Facebook or Twitter.

Stay tuned.

December 30, 2017

My Movie Project

A couple of months ago, I completed a longstanding project. My goal was to watch every movie on the list of the top 100 American movies compiled by American Film Institute. I was working with the 2007 version of the list, which updates a 1998 list.

AFI’s 100 Years 100 Movies
Before I began this project, I had already seen nearly three-quarters of the movies on the AFI list. Most of  the titles I had to find were in the bottom half of the list. Completing the project mostly required my getting DVDs or Blu-ray disks from Netflix. My final movie, Do the Right Thing, was streamed from Amazon. (This turned out to be one of my least enjoyed, by the way.)

Some of my favorite movies were not on the list, as they were not American. (A movie was deemed “American” if it were financed with American money, even if were otherwise “foreign.”) Thus, for example, Truffaut’s Day for Night was not on the list, though it may not have made the list anyway. Neither was The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.

It is interesting to compare the two lists nearly a decade apart. Certain films moved around on the list, some, both recent and not, were added, and 23 films were dropped. (The Wikipedia article for the first list analyzes differences between the two.) I was surprised that The Birth of a Nation was dropped. For good or ill, it was certainly influential, even though I did not like it. I would like to have seen Doctor Zhivago kept, as well as Fantasia, each of which greatly influenced me personally. My top pick would have been Casablanca, which dropped from second to third place over the decade.

My movie project gave me an excuse to experience some excellent movies I would not have seen otherwise. I now have an increased appreciation of Charlie Chaplin, for example. My concept of the Western was definitely stretched through experiencing Unforgiven and The Wild Bunch. (Watch these at your own risk.) I also saw movies, such as Spartacus, which I should have seen a long time ago.

The movie that was my happiest discovery was F.W. Murnau’s 1927 film Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans. The movie straddled the silent and sound eras. There is no spoken dialogue—speech is conveyed through title cards—but there is an original synchronized soundtrack containing music and sound effects. (Sunrise used the Fox Movietone sound-on-film system.) The movie succeeds despite its being a silent picture. It is a touching fable of conjugal love and rural vs. urban tensions. Sunrise won several awards at the first Academy Awards ceremony, including Best Unique and Artistic Picture.

If you are at all interest in cinema, consider a project similar to mine. There are many more worthy movies out there, of course, but the AFI list will help you hold your own in cocktail party conversations as long as the topic of recent movies doesn’t come up. If you are not much of a movie fan and haven’t seen many movies on the list, the project will take a while.