URLs du Jour

2020-05-01

Happy May to all! Only a few things on the docket today:

  • We've been making fun of a number of folks disrespecting our state's motto lately. But this Columbia Spectator article by Senem Yurdakul came up in the LFOD news alert mail, and it's an honest depiction of the author's own mindset: Thoughts on COVID-19 from a student living in an authoritarian regime. That regime is Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), by the way.

    After I read about signs saying “Live Free Or Die”, or “Isolation of the Healthy is Tyranny” held by the U.S. protestors, my naïve belief that the world was harmoniously united in this fight against the pandemic quickly dissipated. In Dubai, where I currently live, residents were forced to go into a three-week complete lockdown. During this time, we weren’t allowed to go outside without permission at all—we had to request permits to go outside for grocery shopping, hospital appointments, and even emergency situations. There was a fine of 2,000 dirhams—around $544—for being outside without a permit, and residents faced deportation or imprisonment for breaking the quarantine rules.

    Yet, it didn’t seem like anyone felt that they were living under tyranny. Most residents considered these strict policies enforced by the government proof of its trustworthiness and ability to contain the outbreak. Instead of fearing the authoritarian regime I live under, I now find myself trusting it. And although I don’t find authoritarianism right under any circumstances, I asked myself whether living under such a regime was actually safer than living under a democratic one, such as the United States, in facing a threat like a global pandemic. The answer I’ve come to is complicated.

    My thoughts: we should take Senem's sentiments seriously. They aren't atypical. Certainly for most of mankind's evolution, systems like Dubai's were the universal norm: an all-powerful leader, everyone under his thumb. (Freedom House's evaluation of the UAE is here. They do better on economic freedom.)

    And there's a certain amount of hardwiring in our brains that allows us to be just fine with that. Part of us wants to be taken care of. To not want responsibility for our own lives. To be part of someone else's grand scheme.

    That's not particularly admirable, and in the long run (I think) it leads to misery. But there's no question that it's there.

    Of course, there's wiring that goes the other way, too. But right now, the balance seems to be swinging in the "I wanna be led" direction.


  • Kevin D. Williamson watched 'Waco', now showing on Netflix, a dramatization of the Branch Davidian horror. He was around there at the time. He points out that, had the ATF wanted to simply arrest David Koresh, as it claimed, that would have been pretty easy to do without a fuss.

    Instead, the ATF staged an assault, complete with helicopters and other military swag, for the benefit of the cameras and, through them, congressional appropriators who were giving the agency the hairy eyeball after the fiasco at Ruby Ridge. Koresh and his parishioners were well known to and in some cases friendly with the local sheriff and his staff, and Koresh was far from being a recluse holed up in his compound: He was a jogger and sometime musician who frequently was out and about in town unaccompanied. He could have been brought in quietly by a couple of locals or discreetly by the feds, but doing it quietly and discreetly would have defeated the purpose of the operation the ATF nicknamed “Showtime.”

    The assault was bungled, and the bungling compounded by lies. The ATF had lied about the presence of a methamphetamine lab in the compound in order to secure helicopters (used purely as props for dramatic purposes) from the military under the increasingly militarized practices of the so-called war on drugs; in fact, there were neither drugs nor even drug charges. Federal authorities subsequently lied to Congress and investigators about the use of incendiary devices in the assault and later were obliged to engage in some very vigorous handwaving when confronted with physical evidence to the contrary. Damning pages from a report to Congress went missing with no explanation. As Newsweek put it at the time, the federal authorities “concealed and may have lied about relatively minor mistakes, and fueled a conspiracy when there didn’t need to be one.”

    The name "Janet Reno" doesn't appear in KDW's article.


  • Jonah Goldberg has a Modest Proposal: A fair way to fight China’s bullying of Hollywood. After recounting some recent history of that behavior…

    It would be wrong and unworkable to ban movie studios from kowtowing to Chinese demands. It’s called show business, not show politics. China is on course to become the biggest single market for film and television, and while it may be cowardly and hypocritical for an industry that wears its idealism on its sleeve to placate a nation that bans free expression and is hauling Uighurs into concentration camps, we shouldn’t follow suit by restricting free expression here at home.

    But that doesn’t mean we can’t impose a little truth-in-labeling on the industry. That’s Gallagher’s idea (which he proposed on a recent episode of my podcast, The Remnant). Congress should require American studios to disclose whether a film has been altered in any way to meet the approval of China’s censorious regime. You know how TV networks inform viewers that a film has been altered for television? Why not notify viewers if a film has been changed to conform with Chinese propaganda?

    There's so much other crap that gets tagged onto the beginning and end of movies, it would be nice to see some interesting information.


  • Bruce Schneier has an opinion on COVID-19 Contact Tracing Apps. Quoting a Buzzfeed article:

    "My problem with contact tracing apps is that they have absolutely no value," Bruce Schneier, a privacy expert and fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, told BuzzFeed News. "I'm not even talking about the privacy concerns, I mean the efficacy. Does anybody think this will do something useful? ... This is just something governments want to do for the hell of it. To me, it's just techies doing techie things because they don't know what else to do."

    Multiply by… well, just about everything else government is proposing to do, or has already done.

    Not for the first, or last, time: the Politician's syllogism:

    1. We must do something
    2. This is something
    3. Therefore, we must do this.

Judy

[2.0 stars] [IMDb Link] [Amazon Link]

Renée Zellweger won the Best Actress Oscar. But that was it, Oscarwise. (Just one other nomination for "Best Achievement in Makeup and Hairstyling". Zzz.)

The main thread is the 1969 version of Judy Garland. She's kind of a mess in every way: broke, abuser of many substances, a number of failed marriages. But she still has her singing voice and showbiz talent, wowing them in Westminster. When she can shake her bad habits long enough to show up.

And, as a closing title at the end reminds us, she was only a few months away from an untimely OD death.

There are flashbacks to Judy's Wizard of Oz days, where (apparently) her problems began with psychological abuse from Louis B. Mayer, and a steady supply of diet pills from studio handlers. (Can't have a fat actress!)

While admiring Ms. Zellweger's talent, it wasn't enough to make the movie even vaguely interesting for me. Talented performer succumbs to inner demons—so why should I care? Your mileage may vary.

The GOAT

[Amazon Link]

I'm a longtime fan of Roger L. Simon's novels following the exploits of onetime private eye Moses Wine. But this one is outside that series. It's also self-published. Both Kindle and hardcover versions are available for a cheap $3.55 at Amazon, Kindle link at your right.

It's the story of 70-something Dan Gelber, who, as the book opens, painfully collapses while he's playing tennis in an oldsters competition. Back surgery is recommended, but that apparently goes painfully wrong, leaving him in perpetual agony. Worse, his prostate is sending up big red warning flags.

A tip from a chatty Asian cleaning lady sens Dan to a mini-mall in Reseda, where he meets up with a Nepalese quack with a supply of rare herbs that promises to be a cure-all. To Dan's surprise, it also turns out to be a fountain of youth, de-aging him. For obscure reasons, he decides to fake his own death in the Himalayas, returning to civilization as Jay Reynolds. And decides to use his youthful powers to become a tennis pro, snag a beautiful mate, acquire untold riches,…

There's a concious parallel to the Faust legend going on here. Unfortunately, that's a literary thread I've managed to avoid over the years, so I don't know how faithfully Mr. Simon adheres to that yarn. Suffice it to say that all doesn't go smoothly for Dan.