Thursday, June 21, 2018


In the blizzard of spam I get, I'm tempted by one academic come-on: "3 papers mention Marc Valdez, including one by a highly followed author with 377 followers." Of course, you have to sign up for the premium service to discover who this ethereal person might happen to be.

One of their testimonials announced that their service "was better than Google Scholar." I had never heard of Google Scholar. I haven't looked at a citation index in thirty years. At least Google Scholar is free.

I was amazed when I looked. My Atmospheric Sciences Master's Degree paper has 89 citations, and my three Ph.D. papers have 59, 58, and 45 citations, respectively. I've apparently had more impact than I realized. I'll have to read some of these papers.

Now, if I can get some traction with my "Breaking Bad" books.

The Game Goes On

The game goes on:
The President says he’s signing an executive order to end family separations. ... the President will sign an executive order allowing children to be detained indefinitely with their parents. The problem is that that violates a 1997 consent decree saying that you can’t detain/imprison children for more than 20 days ... It straight up violates that order. ... a court will step in, say you can’t do that and then Trump will announce that the judge is forcing him to keep separating families.

Family values conservatism, killed by the Trumpies:
Donald Trump didn’t bring about the end of “family values” conservatism. It was already on the way out. But now that overdramatic political metaphor exists as a very real policy. And it’s hard to imagine that “family values” talking points can survive much longer while those who long ranted that the federal government was seeking to “destroy the family” sit silently as it literally rips families apart.

Queen Melania:
For Melania to emerge from her customary position on the sidelines to play a critical role in reversing a major policy initiative might seem a perplexing event. But for a historian of the Middle Ages, it is part of an instantly recognizable pattern.

A near-constant in late medieval kingship was the use of the queen as intercessor. Women were conventionally ascribed softer hearts, and subjects were encouraged to appeal to the queen for mercy. The template for this role was the Virgin Mary—the paragon of intercession among medieval Christians—who was believed to sit, enthroned in heaven, at the side of her son Christ, able and willing to make appeals to him on behalf of suffering or desperate devotees. Medieval art and medieval texts customarily liken queens to the Virgin Mary, especially in the role of intercessor.

Immigrant Children Terrified At Ghastly Visage Of La Llorona In Detention Center (link)

Charles Krauthammer Finally Dies

Small pleasures, as some of the worst of the Bushies shuffle off the mortal coil:
Rupert Murdoch, the executive chairman of Fox News, said in a statement at the time, "Charles has been a profound source of personal and intellectual inspiration for all of us at Fox News. His always principled stand on the most important issues of our time has been a guiding star in an often turbulent world, a world that has too many superficial thinkers vulnerable to the ebb and flow of fashion, and a world that, unfortunately, has only one Charles Krauthammer. His words, his ideas, his dignity and his integrity will resonate within our society and within me for many, many years to come."
The fucker is finally dead.


I did a show with Peter in 1997 ("Fiddler on the Roof" at the Woodland Opera House). Just like his inventiveness and eccentricity!

Whymcycles: A Boy and His Bikes from Nicolette Daskalakis on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Disposing of Plate Glass

Trying to dispose of broken plate glass, I learned that no one recycles it: too cheap to make. So, I tried to break the plate glass into smaller, more-manageable pieces by gently tapping it. That went about as well as expected: 10 trillion pieces of glass everywhere. Into the garbage can and off to the landfill tomorrow, provided the scavenging homeless don’t slice themselves into ribbons tonight.

DMTC's "Disney's 'The Little Mermaid'"

Caught the Saturday night performance. Didn't get any pictures, except for Cyndi Wall as Ursula.

"First Reformed"

Saw this movie a week-and-a-half ago. Still don't know exactly what I think about it. I liked the end, though.

Monday, June 18, 2018

A Ten-Car Pileup on the Channel Separation Highway:

You have to keep the channels separate, and when you run the government, you can't do that:
This is not just sloppiness or indiscipline. The essence of Trumpism is dominance and punishment of those outside the tribal fold. It is probably even wrong to call this a policy of deterrence. It’s a policy of punishment. At the most basic level folks like Miller, Sessions, Trump want to show they are kicking ass at the border, against lawless non-white people. They want to do it and they want to show they are doing it. For them doing it doesn’t matter unless you show it. It’s what a TPM Reader identified as the essence of Trumpism: ‘performative cruelty‘.

...There’s also the matter of channel conflict. Channel separation is a bedrock principle of marketing. You sell the same product to different people at different prices – price discrimination. You sell the same product to different people using different pitches. It all works so long as the channels remain largely separate. Since Trump is more than anything a marketing man the framework of channel conflict is an appropriate way to explain what is happening.

For base Trumpists: family separation for the bad people is simply awesome.

For other pro-Trump Republicans: evil against children may not be okay, but abusing Democrats works. So for them, no defense of family separation as such, but stick it on the Democrats. Blaming the opponents of your policy for policy is perverse, nasty and thus awesome.

For more Middle of the Road Voters: It’s simply not happening. There is no family separation policy. It’s literally not happening at all or if it is happening it’s being forced on us and families were separated under Obama too.

What we’ve seen this weekend is that evil practiced on children, by design, with quotes from senior administration officials floating around saying it’s great was just too much. This created a sort of 10 car pile of contradictory BS answers. It’s awesome. The Democrats made us do it. It’s not happening. And here we are. It is difficult to imagine this policy will survive the week in its current form, given this firestorm. But we should recognize how deeply embedded the need for these actions is in Trumpism. This isn’t a byproduct. Child separation as punishment, on display, was always a feature not a bug.

Yes, Seizing Hostages is a Well-Known Negotiating Tool

But there’s no real negotiation going on. Democrats, particularly those from border states, will not support a border wall, and even if they caved, the GOP won’t release the children. The appropriate response is to identify and seize Republican hostages, whether literal or figurative. There are plenty of targets:
President Trump has calculated that he will gain political leverage in congressional negotiations by continuing to enforce a policy he claims to hate — separating immigrant parents from their young children at the southern border, according to White House officials.

On Friday, Trump suggested he would not change the policy unless Democrats agreed to his other immigration demands, which include funding a border wall, tightening the rules for border enforcement and curbing legal entry. He also is intent on pushing members of his party to vote for a compromise measure that would achieve those long-standing priorities.

Trump’s public acknowledgment that he was willing to let the policy continue as he pursued his political goals came as the president once again blamed Democrats for a policy enacted and touted by his own administration.

"The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction"

Going through my books, I came across "The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction."

In September 1904, New York City nuns brought forty Irish orphans to Clifton-Morenci Arizona, to be placed with Catholic families, who were overwhelmingly of Mexican extraction. To the town's Anglos, placing a white child with a Mexican family was tantamount to child abuse. Furious at this "interracial" transgression, they formed a vigilante squad that kidnapped the children and nearly lynched the nuns and the local priest. The Catholic Church sued to get its wards back, but all the courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, ruled in favor of the vigilantes.

Kidnapping children is what racist Anglos do. Circumstances might change, but the basic patterns of history repeat themselves.

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

Wonderful movie about Fred Rogers!

I was a little old for Mister Rogers, more my sisters' watching material, so I watched the movie in a spirit of curiosity. There a was a round of applause from the audience at the end.

Preparing to exit the theater, a man asked, "Are you from Pittsburgh?" I said no, and asked why he asked. "Oh, it's because I'm from there, and Fred Rogers is one of the icons of the city, right up there with the Pittsburgh Steelers. See my T-Shirt?" I looked at his T-Shirt of a roller coaster. "See? It features an amusement park that anyone from Pittsburgh will recognize." I grinned and thought his hometown enthusiasm was marvelous!

Favorite Book Covers

I have accepted Lisa Masters' challenge to post the covers of seven books I love. I'm tweaking the rules she passed on to me, though. Instead of asking a friend to take up the challenge every time I post a cover, I'll just ask one friend on Day Seven. Or you can just accept the challenge on your own without my prompting. In addition, I'll post a brief explanation of why I like this book.

Day One

"Son of the Morning Star" is a poetic attempt to penetrate the mystery of why Custer failed at the Little Bighorn. In order to do so, Evan Connell runs far afield, delving into many other mysteries of life on the Great Plains in the 19th Century, such as the practice of "counting coup," the inexperience of his troops (a number had barely ever seen a Native American before), and their surprise when they discovered a dying longtime laundress was a man. Just a great work!

Day Two

Of all my professors in college, UNM's Ferenc Szasz was my favorite. He taught American cultural, religious, and intellectual history. It was from him I learned delightful things like: the mindset of the Puritans; Francis Schlatter, the second coming of the Messiah in New Mexico; and the Littlefield allegorical interpretation of the Wizard of Oz.

Szasz was an authority on 19th Century American Protestantism, and nothing made him happier than learning about the teachings of obscure preachers trying to make a go of it in overwhelmingly-Catholic New Mexico.

"The Day the Sun Rose Twice: The Story of the Trinity Site Nuclear Explosion" is based on large amounts of Manhattan Project material declassified in the 1980s, particularly the meteorology (the same batch of material that formed the basis of Peter Sellars opera, "Dr. Atomic"). In Szasz's characteristic way, he focuses on what people in the Manhattan Project believed.

Szasz's wife, Margaret Connell-Szasz, wrote about her husband: "His training was in social and intellectual history, which is almost a nonexistent field now. Because of that, it meant that he was interested in everything in American history - in society, culture, the intellectual world; just common, ordinary, everyday things that included folk history, philosophy, religion, science - you name it." Szasz was about the History of Everything, and I am proud to have studied under him.

Ferenc Szasz gave this lecture in 2009 at Los Alamos. Here is Part 4 of 7, where he introduces some of the geniuses of the Manhattan Project (with a brief sound glitch):

Day Three

Strangely enough, I don't believe I've fully read this book, a memoir by my first ballet instructor and Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo veteran, George Zoritch. That's OK: ballet is about doing anyway. Zoritch came from a generation of expatriate Russian nobility that transformed the world of dance in the 1930s an 40s. What an (opinionated) man! Ballet is the best art, ever!

George Zoritch, in Hollywood:

Day Four

Pekka Hämäläinen's "The Comanche Empire" follows the story of a band of Shoshone who decided not to follow the buffalo north with their compatriots on their newly-obtained horses, but instead to cross into the Colorado Plateau, forge an alliance with the Utes about 1710, and begin raiding the Spaniards of northern New Mexico, who had just returned after the Pueblo Revolt. The Comanches soon became the terror of the Southwest, sweeping aside Spaniards and Apache alike, far into Texas and Mexico. At their height, the Comanches controlled a territory roughly the size of Mexico, but never numbered more than about 50,000. A very odd, nearly-empty horseback empire.

The Comanches could have eliminated the Spaniards, but chose instead to abuse and control them, because they had useful armaments. The Spaniards tried various defenses, which proved weak against the Comanche (but later bore fruit against the Navajo). Certain Governors of New Mexico stood out for their statesmanship under difficult circumstances (Cachupín & de Anza).

This book is a reminder that politics in the past was even more-miserable and complicated than it is today.

Day Five

Back in the early Seventies, California's schools were the envy of the nation, but as real estate inflation accelerated, so too did property taxes, igniting a rebellion among home owners, particularly those on fixed incomes. Proposition 13's passage heralded the conservative dominance in America we've seen since 1978. Needless to say, the collapse of high-quality California public education followed almost instantaneously. Even though homeowners led the charge, Corporate America profited most from the sharp reduction in property taxes.

When the California Gubernatorial Recall campaign accelerated in the summer of 2003, and 135 people declared their candidacies for Governor (including myself), we all had to quickly assemble platforms on which to run. I ran on Proposition 13 repeal, and based my campaign entirely on this book.

Day Six

I love puzzles. Over the last thirty years, there has been a great deal of progress in puzzling out how the Maya understood the cosmos, what their constellations were, and what they meant to them. "Maya Cosmos," written in 1994, is right on the cusp of understanding, where the authors piece together what they know, accounting for precession over the last two millennia. It's all exceedingly complex. Inscriptions of Mayan cosmic symbols represent sky maps.

The sky was a rich pageant of Creation. For example, on August 13, 690 AD (the inauguration of an important holiday), the Milky Way begins as the Crocodile Tree at sunset, and then transforms into a great canoe, which then sinks underwater as the hours pass by. The Turtle and the Stones of Creation (what we call the belt of Orion) reach the zenith by sunrise.

A number of important stories and legends play out as the sky rotates. By understanding these stories, the reasons why certain days are Mayan holidays can finally be understood and referenced against the sky.

Day Seven
This is day seven; the final day.

Ernest Dimnet (1866-1954) was a French priest, writer and lecturer. In his 1928 book "The Art of Thinking," Dimnet discusses "Preserving One's Thoughts":

"To keep no track of what one learns or thinks is as foolish as to till and seed one's lands with great pains, and when the harvest is ripe turn one's back upon it and think of it no more.

Some people have extraordinarily retentive memories and can do with a minimum of notes, but phenomenal exceptions do not count. Most men who have made a name in literature, politics, or business have found it necessary to have a paper memory and those who have thought it possible to dispense with the drudgery of forming such a one have inevitably someday rued it. For humorists who define memory as the faculty enabling us to forget only emphasize an unfortunate truth. Striking or vivid impressions which we imagine can never be effaced from our consciousness do not survive in it more than a few weeks, sometimes a few days, unless something is done to give them permanence. A busy life teaches even congenital idleness to do that. Anybody whom his fate compels to use his brain actively soon realizes that he cannot afford to lose any of his resources, and he devises some plan for stopping waste. If he is rich enough he buys the assistance of a trained secretary. If not, he reads the books in which the methods of erudition or those of business (they are almost alike) are expounded, or he invents devices of his own. We marvel at the immense knowledge which some writers possess of what used to be called foreign politics but should be called at present the politics of us all. We wonder at the enormousness of the archives they must keep and the difficulty for even them to find their way through that mass of papers. As a matter of fact, folio volumes of coarse paper on which clippings from the newspapers can be glued according to some happy combination of the vertical and the horizontal are all that is necessary. Red ink annotations will provide indication of richer dossiers. The secret is to clip all that seems important at once. Newspapers are historical documents prepared by men and women generally ignorant of, and indifferent to, history. An occurrence of far-reaching consequence may be mentioned in an inconspicuous column and in unemphatic type by so-called specialists who do not realize its importance and will never allude to it again. If the passage is not filed at once its absence may mean the loss of a capital link in the chain of events.

Facts are only the material for thought. Thoughts themselves, that is to say, the illumination produced in our mind by the presence of rich facts, should be preserved even more carefully."

What Dimnet describes above is, in essence, pre-Internet blogging. The habit of blogging preserves information and the annotations one makes generates thought. It is a very good habit to have.

Trump Salutes His North Korean Masters

What a disgrace. Despicable, and a grave dishonor to the 50,000 American soldiers who lost their lives in Korea, as well as their families.
North Korean state television aired a 42-minute documentary on Thursday that offered a different view of Kim Jong Un's meeting with President Trump in Singapore.

Notably, the documentary appears to have captured several scenes that international news organizations missed — including one awkward moment when Trump was saluted by a North Korean military leader. The U.S. president then salutes in return.

Though only a brief interaction, it was telling that the salute was included in the documentary, according to Jean H. Lee, a North Korea scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington.

“This is a moment that will be used over and over in North Korea’s propaganda as 'proof' that the American president defers to the North Korean military,” Lee said. “It will be treated as a military victory by the North Koreans.”

Fear The Carpet

There might be Legos there:
BILLUND, DENMARK—Lego has just introduced new and improved interlocking plastic bricks that will instantly kill you when you step on them, sources at the company’s headquarters confirmed Thursday.

The sharper edges in the new design will just immediately put you out of your misery, so you don’t have to roll around on the ground in excruciating pain for minutes on end. Utilizing advanced laser-driven techniques, Lego factories can now hone the edges of the famously sharp and painful bricks to such a fine point that the human nervous system instantly shuts down upon coming into contact with them.

Ivanka's Chinese Proverb

The daughter of the US president tweeted on Monday: "'Those who say it can not be done, should not interrupt those doing it.' - Chinese Proverb".

But digital sleuths in the US and China said there is no evidence such a pearl of wisdom originated in China.

Social Media Influencer, That's The Life For Me!

This looks like the gig for me. Marc, the Thought Bot as social media influencer. I'll stay in your motel for three months in exchange for two social media posts about your continental breakfast:
“Everyone with a Facebook these days is an influencer,” she said. “People say, I want to come to the Maldives for 10 days and will do two posts on Instagram to like 2,000 followers. It's people with 600 Facebook friends saying, ‘Hi, I'm an influencer, I want to stay in your hotel for 7 days,’” she said. Others send vague one-line emails, like “I want to collaborate with you,”with no further explanation. “These people are expecting five to seven nights on average, all inclusive. Maldives is not a cheap destination.” She said that only about 10 percent of the requests she receives are worth investigating.

A Golden Age of Clever Product Names at Target