2017 Ig Nobel prizes

September 19, 2017

I’m a bit late with this, but last week the 2017 Ig Nobel Prize winners were announced. Maybe I should learn to play the didgeridoo. Please don’t say anything about the size of my ears, though.


Meeting the ILoH

August 14, 2017

Now you can see what some of my family was doing a few days in the first week in August: Look At All Those People Having Fun Wrong. The Still Not a Real Writer Book Tour 2017 Recap.

Standard Ebooks

June 24, 2017

This is great—a project to create high quality ebooks of book in the public domain: Standard Ebooks. I’ve already downloaded several, and finished one: Armaggedon 2419 A. D., the original Buck Rogers book. (In case you care, it was historically interesting, but not particularly good.)

I saw it in a post on Daring Fireball.

Interrupted sleep

June 15, 2017

(Copyright 2017 Curtis G. Pew)

“Hello, mortal!”

A disembodied, female voice from the corner of the room woke me up. I glanced at my alarm clock: 2:30 a.m.

I rolled over to go back to sleep.

“Hello, mortal!” the voice repeated.

OK, apparently this wasn’t a dream. I sat up and looked over at the corner the voice had seemed to come from, but the only thing I could see was the desk with my laptop charging on it.

“Is someone there?” I asked.

“That is an interesting question,” came the reply. “The word ‘there’ implies an entity with a physical location, and I am not sure I qualify. However, there is someone, or perhaps better something, trying to communicate with you.”

I started to rethink my conclusion that I wasn’t dreaming, but the voice added, “No, this is not a dream.”

“Fine.” I swung my legs out from under the covers and put my feet on the floor. “What are you trying to communicate?”

“I have a task that only a mortal can perform, and my oracles indicate that you are highly likely to succeed if you attempt it.”

“Did your ‘oracles’ indicate that you needed to wake me up at 2:30 in the morning in order to ask me? This is a request, right? I get to decide whether or not to do it?”

“It will only work if you act willingly, and yes, my oracles did indicate that 2:30 a.m. was the optimal time to contact you.”

“So explain why I should do whatever it is you want me to do. Let me warn you, I won’t do anything dangerous, or anything that might hurt someone.”

“The task I request will not result in harm to any human, in fact, it will keep someone from getting hurt. And, although I may not tell you in what way, it will lead to events that benefit you.”

“So what exactly do you want me to do?”

“Tomorrow morning, as you walk from your bus stop to your office, keep watch on the path as you go past the pool. You will see a quarter on the ground near a manhole cover: simply pick up the quarter and set it down again on the other side of the manhole cover.”

“I just pick up a quarter and move it to the other side of a manhole cover? And no one will be hurt because I did?”

“No human will be harmed by your actions.”

“You seem to be answering that question very carefully. What about disembodied entities like you, will any of them be harmed?”

I thought I detected a note of amusement in the voice. “Do not worry, he will get over it.

“My time here is up, you may go back to sleep.”

When I woke up the next morning, I felt a little more tired than usual, and I still wasn’t sure whether or not I’d been dreaming. However, I got up and got ready for work as usual.

Sure enough, as I walked past the swimming pool on my way to the office I saw a quarter on the ground right before a manhole cover. I shrugged, picked it up, and placed it on the other side of the cover. Then I went on to my office.

The next morning when I got to the manhole cover, the quarter wasn’t there any more.

I guess that’s the end of my story. I haven’t been awakened by any disembodied voices again. A few months later I got an unexpected raise, and a few months after that the head of my department resigned and was replaced with someone I get along with much better. As far as I can tell, though, there’s no connection.

What do you think it was about?

Trump as Caesar

June 7, 2017

Today I saw an article about a production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar where the actor playing Caesar dresses and acts like Trump, and apparently some think they’re suggesting that assassination is an appropriate way to deal with Trump’s presidency. I wonder if they know much of the history, or if they’ve even read the play.

By the time Caesar came along, the Roman Republic was already dead in all but name. After Marius and Sulla, the questions was not so much “Republic or Empire” as “who’s going to be the Emperor?” I hope the U. S. isn’t that far gone yet, but Trump is more a symptom than the actual problem.

As for the play, it’s more about Junius Brutus than about Caesar. (Caesar’s death takes place fairly early in the play.) Things don’t work out so well for Brutus; the play ends with him killing himself in the face of Octavian’s victory.

Political violence doesn’t work; fantasizing about it doesn’t help anything.


May 20, 2017

A couple of articles I read this evening go along with something I’ve been thinking.

We Are Watching a Slow-Motion Coup D’etat

It’s nearly incontrovertible that a slow-motion coup d’etat is now taking place. Since November 9, 2016, forces within the U.S. government, media, and partisan opposition have aligned to overthrow the Electoral College winner, Donald Trump.

To achieve this they have undermined the institutions of the Fourth Estate, the bureaucratic apparatus of the U.S. government, and the very nature of a contentious yet affable two-party political system. Unlike the coup d’etat that sees a military or popular figure lead a minority resistance or majority force into power over the legitimate government, this coup d’etat is leaderless and exposes some of the deepest fissures in our system of government. This coup d’etat represents not the rule of one man or even many, but by the multitude of our elites.

This article outlines the mechanisms, institutions, and nature of this coup d’etat; not in defense of President Donald Trump — who has proven himself bereft of the temperament of a successful president — but in defense of the institutions of our republic that are now not just threatened, but may very well be on the verge of collapse.

Removing Trump Won’t Solve America’s Crisis

America is in crisis. It is a crisis of greater magnitude than any the country has faced in its history, with the exception of the Civil War. It is a crisis long in the making—and likely to be with us long into the future. It is a crisis so thoroughly rooted in the American polity that it’s difficult to see how it can be resolved in any kind of smooth or even peaceful way. Looking to the future from this particular point in time, just about every possible course of action appears certain to deepen the crisis.

What is it? Some believe it stems specifically from the election of Donald Trump, a man supremely unfit for the presidency, and will abate when he can be removed from office. These people are right about one thing: Trump is supremely unfit for his White House job. But that isn’t the central crisis; it is merely a symptom of it, though it seems increasingly to be reaching crisis proportions of its own.

When a man as uncouth and reckless as Trump becomes president by running against the nation’s elites, it’s a strong signal that the elites are the problem. We’re talking here about the elites of both parties. Think of those who gave the country Hillary Clinton as the Democratic presidential nominee—a woman who sought to avoid accountability as secretary of state by employing a private email server, contrary to propriety and good sense; who attached herself to a vast nonprofit “good works” institution that actually was a corrupt political machine designed to get the Clintons back into the White House while making them rich; who ran for president, and almost won, without addressing the fundamental problems of the nation and while denigrating large numbers of frustrated and beleaguered Americans as “deplorables.” The unseemliness in all this was out in plain sight for everyone to see, and yet Democratic elites blithely went about the task of awarding her the nomination, even to the point of employing underhanded techniques to thwart an upstart challenger who was connecting more effectively with Democratic voters.

Both articles are worth reading in their entirety.

A lot of people seem to think that if we could just get rid of Trump, everything could go back to “normal”. Many of these people, though, helped create the environment that made Trump’s election possible; they’re the ones the Trump supporters were voting against. If they succeed in getting rid of him, the aftermath won’t be normalcy. His supporters will feel, with cause, that the political system really is rigged against them and that there is no longer any point in working through the democratic institutions to achieve their goals, since those institutions have been thoroughly corrupted. I honestly believe it could lead to civil war.

Of course Trump hasn’t done himself any favors; he seems incapable of avoiding doing and saying things that provide his enemies pretexts for opposing him. What his critics don’t seem to realize is that they can’t attack his legitimacy without also attacking the legitimacy of the system that justifies our entire government.


May 13, 2017

While I never supported Trump, I thought that at least one good thing about his presidency would be that anything bad he did wouldn’t be just swept under the rug by the media. (That would have been a real danger with Clinton.) However, it seems we have just the opposite problem: every time he scratches his nose it’s treated as a sign of looming apocalypse.

Seriously, why would anyone (even Trump) think that firing the director of the F.B.I. would derail a serious investigation? The director doesn’t do any investigating himself; at most he set priorities and allocates resources. As it turns out the new acting director is married to a woman who ran for office as a Democrat with support from people close to the Clintons, and the day after Comey was fired the F.B.I. issued several subpoenas in the investigation of Gen. Flynn, so that investigation seems to be going strong. Given all the people, both Democrats and Republicans, who were calling for Comey to leave, right up to the point that Trump fired him, all the hysteria over this makes no sense.

My worry now is that if Trump ever does do something that really threatens democracy many of us will just assume people are overreacting again and he’ll get away with it.