Yerushalyim Shel Shalom

Yesterday, the US officially moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. It has brought up a number of discussions, so I thought I would share my thoughts this morning before I start the day. I refer people to my statement of core values from a few days ago.

Why was the embassy moved? Ostensibly, it was in recognition of Jerusalem’s status as Israel’s capitol, but as that had been on the table for a long time before, it wasn’t the real reason. The timing behind it being done now was to please Trump’s evangelical base: it fulfills a biblical prophesy that supports Covenent Theology and hastens the end of days. If you read my core values, you know my thoughts on that: I think it is presumptuous for humans to take the place of God and to do things to fulfill prophecies of a particular religion. Let God fulfill God’s prophecies in God’s time.

I saw others seeing yesterday as a “dark day for the US” because no Democratic Congresscritters attended. Given the Congress normally doesn’t attend embassy openings, I’m glad they didn’t waste the money. In the long run, who attended the ceremony won’t matter one bit. Unless is it the catalyzing action for a war, even moving the embassy won’t matter 100 years down the road. All that is significant is US support for Israel, through monetary support and military and trade alliances. For some segments of Judaism, moving the embassy is vitally important (again, often for prophetic reasons). For most American Jews, however, it is more problematic. It is likely good that it is in Jerusalem, but the timing is problematic. Right now, there was loads of violence and death as protests erupted; and unsurprisingly, the Israeli government may have responded in a way that hurt their image. Did the Israeli government overreact? Probably, but I don’t always agree with what the Israeli government does, nor do I have to. I do predict there will be chaos over this for a while, but eventually things will settle back to the normal level of hatred between the parties. After all, it’s just an embassy. In fact, one article I read noted an interesting side effect: It might lead to the opening of an embassy for the Palestinians, also in Jerusalem, which they consider as their capitol.

Finding peace in the region is a difficult goal, and it ultimately depends on the parties agreeing to compromise with each other — and that means formally recognizing each other. Palestinians must recognize that Israel must be allowed to exist in peace in some form; that to achieve their nation means not wiping Israel from the map. Israel must agree that that Palestinians have the rights to some land and some level of reparations, and that how their government has been treating them has been wrong. Both are hard recognitions to make. Trump may stumble into a solution (just has he has in Korea), not through any particular action other than pandering to his base and being batshit crazy and having a much more personal style. Being crazy and focusing on personal relations is normal operations in the Middle East, and I’ve at least one article suggesting the Palestinians work with Trump. Consider that his pulling out of the deal with Iran has not only given Iran the power to look like a good guy by staying in the pact with the Europeans, but has put fear into the Saudis and gotten them talking … to Israel. Who knows what will happen because of the unpredictability of Trump, and the fear of the unpredictable may push parties together. If in the long term the balance of powers shifts in the Middle East so that the US’s power is diminished, well, at least the US is taking care of itself, right? After all, that’s worked with China and Russia? Right? Bueller? Bueller?

However, the point of this is that the opening ceremony for the embassy in Jerusalem is noise in the larger geopolitical issues. It may seem a big deal now, but it will be overshadowed by other things quickly. Despite evangelicals seeing it as important and the fulfillment of prophecy, it ultimately is at most a sentence in a history book (if indeed there are history books — the world is coming to an end, right?).

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Art, Artists, and Accusations in the #MeToo Era

The conviction this week of Bill Cosby brings, once again, the distinction between art and artist to the fore. Whereas it might be possible to look the other way for an artist that had problematic behavior at the level of “only unsubstantiated accusation” or a single incident once way in the past, Cosby’s history makes it clear that he was abusing from his first stand-up days, and throughout his film and TV career. It raises the question of how we view his media output in the light of this. For some, Cosby has made his media work a betrayal of the values that it conveyed. But for others? Does his behavior make his standup less funny? I grew up thinking his album “Wonderfulness” was one of the best, with routines like “Tonsils” and “Chicken Heart” memorized. There was none of his abusive behavior in those stories. Indeed, throughout much of his early standup, shows like “I Spy” and his various TV series (The Bill Cosby Show in the 1960s, Cosby, etc.) were mostly wholesome entertainment. How is that tainted by the abhorrent behavior of the artist? Or to put it bluntly: You’ve got the LPs, the CDs, the DVDs of those performances, although paid for. He makes no money whether you view them anymore. So what do you do with them? Is listening to them betrayal of your values or support of his behavior?

This, in essence, is the broader question of how we separate the art from the artist. It would be wonderful if all of our artist were good people (same for our politicians). If we enjoy their work, we want the artist to be good. But people are complicated, and art is complicated, and complicated people produce art with complications. Do we abandon the artistic output of people like Woody Allan, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski? Do we not listen to bands where the rock stars slept with underage groupies? Do we delay doing so until the artist is dead, or will no longer make money from us that they can use towards abuse?

It’s not an easy question.

Complicating this is the fact that in having abusive sexual behavior, the victim is not the only one who is screwed. Think of all the other innocent actors on Bill Cosby shows, who are now not earning residuals because of Cosby’s behavior.  Think of the media companies that no longer make money, the writers that no longer get exposure. The people for whom their association with Cosby is now a stain on their resume. They didn’t ask for this. In penalizing the man, we hurt a larger community. [By the way, in saying this, I want to make clear that I don’t support his behavior or think we should look the other way. I’m only noting that his behavior hurts a far wider circle.]

It also raises the question of how we view art and artistic output in the #MeToo (and post-#MeToo era). Cosby has raised the question of good art from badly-behaving artists. But there’s also the question of the #MeToo lens. I’ve noted how our new environment has made me look at shows I watch and see differently — both for the good and bad. Some shows, like Steel Pier, resonate more post-#MeToo. Others are painful to watch because of the stereotypes they perpetuate or implicit privilege they capture (How To Succeed is an example of this, but far from the only one — perhaps Gone With The Wind is the best example). What do we do with this art, and how do we handle and reinterpret it. Do we need to explicitly express the historic context to enjoy it. Do we hide it away, embarrassed? Does art transform from good to bad because of its message?

Just as with people, art is complicated. Would there be simple answers?

I certainly don’t have them. But I see the conflict, I see the lens. I recognize the bad behavior of the artists, and (at least for some time) may set aside the artistic output. But I remain conflicted? What should I think when a song from Beyond the Sea with Keven Spacey comes on the iPod? To that end, what do I think about when I hear great music from artists that abused women? No easy answers.

I’m open to your thoughts. How are you dealing with the question of art and artists, in the post #MeToo era?

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In Which He Resembles a Broken Clock .. in Space

As you have probably figured out by now, I’m not a big fan of President Trump. I could easily list the reasons, but there is insufficient space in this post. But the President is like a broken clock, which does tell the right time occasionally. His recent “space force” proposal is almost one of those times, and doesn’t deserve the beatings that comedians are giving it. They are portraying the notion like Star Fleet, imaging battles in space and fights against space aliens. But that’s not what he is proposing.

This Vox article explains things very well. Think about how our military is structured. Originally, there was the Army and the Navy. Then battles began to be fought by naval groups on the ground, and a new organization was spun off: the Marine Corps. Aircraft were developed, and originally they were managed within the Army. But the segment grew to a point where it was working with Army, Navy, and Marines, and needed to be its own service. In 1947 (IIRC), the Air Force was spun off as its own service.

Now consider space. Our national dependence on space has grown: from GPS services to communications to imagery, it is vital to warfighting and defense. Space is primarily run by the Air Force, through the Space and Missile Command. SMC acquires space assets (satellites, launch systems, ground support) and provides the military and civilian support to operate these systems. There are also Army and Navy Space systems, and groups from other services that use space assets. Space is an increasingly contested area, both from commercial use, as well as other nations either putting assets in orbit, or attempting to attack or impede assets in orbit.

Trump’s call recognizes that. What he is suggesting is a new service, either at the Department level … or more likely analogous to the Marine Corps within the Department of the Navy. This would give increased visibility to Space and Space assets, especially as the Air Force has to balance funding between aircraft and spacecraft. On the surface, the idea makes sense. When you look at it closer, it doesn’t — not because Space isn’t important, but because Space isn’t yet at the point where it requires a duplicative bureaucracy and all the extra costs and paperwork that would come with an additional corps or service. As with the Cyber battlespace, it can be addressed best at the Command level, utilizing structures currently existing within the USAF and other national security agencies.

[ETA: My friend Miriam, over on FB, commented with a good explanation of some of the problems that exist currently, that a proposal such as this might address: “The problem is that the Air Force is doing a terrible job of meeting the space-related needs of warfighters. We have satellites on orbit for decades before warfighters can use some of their capabilities. And that is largely because the AF won’t fund capabilities that are needed primarily by the Army (GPS M-code) or Navy (comm on the move, various weather capabilities).” Having an organization that can focus funding specifically on space, and can better balance the needs of the entire user base, is beneficial. The question is what is the right way to do this without overburdening the bureaucracy, which can mushroom quickly in the military.]

So, in short, not as silly an idea as it seems on the surface, but one we don’t really need yet. Even a stopped clock tells the right time twice a day.

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These Boots are Made for Walking

A lot of energy is being spent by folks blathering on about how students shouldn’t have walked out, they should have walked over, or in general, not walked at all. My thoughts? I have absolutely no problem with students — of any age — peaceably protesting about any political interest that is of concern to them. It teaches civic involvement; it teaches that one can stand up to the government when one believes differently; it teaches that one voice can start a change, and many voices can bring about change; it teaches our youth the value of political involvement. As for missing school, more time is wasted on pep rallies and similar school spirit idiocies that teach nothing than an hour of protest.

I’m a child of the 1960s. I remember the days when students across high school and college campuses stood up to protest the Vietnam War, because it was their lives that were being used as cannon fodder by the government. They brought about a change in attitude towards the war, they changed society. I remember the days when students across campuses protested for civil rights and equal treatment for minorities, when student idealism brought societal change that benefited everyone.

It was protest that started with walking out.

Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done walked a mile or two.
Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done all shoes can do.

They walked with Rosa to the front of the bus;
They walked with Martin when he prayed for us.
They walked with me and they walked with you;
They done all shoes can do.

There are those who say students should walk over instead of walking out. Those who say the bullies should make nice with the bullied, and that will solve all the problems. Although that’s a nice theory, it is full of holes (perhaps .44). Those who have been bullied know, once bullying has started, the bully can’t make nice and the problem will go away. The distrust and the hatred has been sown. Bullying must be stopped before it starts. Further, it is an example of blaming the victim, of saying it was the bully who does the shooting. It is an example of diversion of the discussion away from gun regulation. It is an example of black and white thinking: if you walk over and make nice, everyone will forget about the problem with guns and we don’t need to do anything about them. Nothing says you can’t do both: address bullying in schools, and improve regulation of guns. Nothing says you can’t make schools more secure and safe, and regulate guns. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

[ETA: For those who haven’t seen my thoughts on the issue: Here’s how I think the problem of school violence should be addressed, and it isn’t the arming of teachers, which is a bad idea.]

The children will lead us on this issue, because they are the ones bearing the brunt of this violence. It is their lives, and they are taking control of them. They are saying never again. They are saying not here. They are saying that we need to keep guns out of schools — be they in the hands of students, visitors, or teachers. They are saying we increase restrictions on the most dangerous and deadly guns: make them harder to obtain, make those who own them legally more responsible for securing them, and going after those who have them legally. They are telling the gun lobby that their lives are more important than the lobby’s profits or the politicians they own.

They are walking to make a statement.

Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done walked a mile or two.
Your shoes, my shoes, 
Done all shoes can do.

They’ve been up the mountain where the trees don’t grow,
Been ‘cross the desert where they never seen snow.
Been so tired that they can’t hardly go,
But they’re good enough to get us to glory.

It’s left shoe, right shoe, don’t know the size.
Shoes on the ground and eyes on the prize.
They’ve been to the river and they’ve been baptized,
And they’re good enough to get us to glory.

(Lyric credit: “Your shoes, My Shoes”, Tom Paxton, 1998)

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Updates from the Pod People World

The following are some news items that have caught my eye over the past few weeks regarding the iPod, the larger iPod ecosystem, and the world of digital music:

  • Are Dedicated Music Players Useless? In today’s world of multifunction devices, such as your smartphone, is the dedicated MP3 player useless? The answer is a resounding “No!”, as this article shows. In addition to the 10 ways in the article, there are some even more important reasons. Dedicated MP3 players don’t use streaming bandwidth, and can be used in places where you have no Internet. They are also not visually based, so you can often operate them without looking. Being more narrow function, they are also usable in situations where phones are not (for example, MP3 players are not treated the same as phones with respect to moving vehicles). Lastly, if you upgrade storage, you can often have a much larger music library with you than you can even with services like the Amazon cloud or iTunes match, especially if you come in with a lot of preexisting music.
  • Upgrading an iPod. Stories about how one can upgrade a later generation (5G or later) iPod classic to use solid state memory come around periodically. The most recent iteration was The Verge and the Circuit Breaker Podcast having an article how to do so. However, they made one major error: they indicated you get the boards and supplies through eBay. Nonsense! I’ve had three iPods updated, and a 4th will eventually be upgraded as well, and in all cases I went straight to the source: the iFlash Adaptor site. I’ve used their iFlash Dual card for all three of my iPod Classics. They also have a useful blog with advice on batteries and memory cards. If you’re local to LA, I’ve found a good person to install the card, if you’re not a hardware person (and I’m not). Drop me an email or a comment and I’ll get you in touch with the person I used.
  • Digital vs. Physical Music . In the days before there was an iTunes store, how was digital audio and video shared? The answer is: via Usenet, and it was this new style of digital sharing — across a forum originally intended for textual messages — that led Usenet to its slow death, while spurring on the growth of the web and online music and video stores. Meanwhile, we’re seeing the death of the physical form for digitized media — CDs, DVDs, Blu-Rays — in favor of streaming. This is a very bad trend, and we must all work to support physical media. There are a number of reasons. First, the physical media made available many rare shows and albums that were saved from obscurity. It also preserved additional information, such as directors cuts, audio tracks, bonus tracks, commentary. Those aren’t present for streaming media, and there is no assurance that rare material will be available for streaming. It is also much easier, with only streamed media, for the media content owner to make the content unavailable. You also can’t easily share streamed media with friends. It is a bad move for the consumer.
  • End of the Headphone Jack. The simple 3.5mm audio jack. It has been around for over 50 years, coming in with the transistor radio, replacing the large headphone jack. It is now starting to disappear, and we should mourn (if not protest) its demise. There are many advantages to this format. Being analog, it is not subject to restricted digital format or digital rights management. It works across all vendors, and you don’t need different products for different devices. Its analog signal is also adaptable, being used for not only sound but any electrical signal such as a card reader, health monitors, and such. By moving to proprietary digital connectors (as they did with streaming), vendors are tying you to using their product, and their enforcement of accessibility to your music. They are creating waste and making obsolete numerous devices, which often go to landfills.
  • Music Management Software. Those who use an iPod or Apple device have a love/hate relationship with iTunes. Often you must use it, but it could be so much better. Here’s a review of 7 iTunes alternatives. The problem is that none of them are iTunes replacements: it is unclear if they handle accumulated metadata, such as the number of plays; it is unclear if they can communicate with older Apple devices (such as the iPod Classic); and it is unclear if they support Smart Playlists. Often, these replacements aren’t too intelligent: they don’t understand synchronization, and they presume album-oriented play. That’s great for a college student with perhaps 50 albums; its bad when you have over 2000 albums and over 42000 songs.
  • Wither iTunes? Of course, the issue with iTunes may be forced. Apple has the ability to make your device obsolete. Just ask the people with first-generation Apple TVs, who are being disconnected from iTunes. Just ask those who use iTunes on Windows XP or Vista. Just ask those hoping to purchase iTunes LPs with additional album content. All have had, or will have, support discontinued by Apple. This is a big worry for me: Why does Apple have any reason to continue to support the ability to synchronize with discontinued iPods, such as the iPod Classic. It is one reason I will not buy an iPhone (requires the latest iTunes), and one reason why I haven’t upgraded from iTunes 11. I still worry that, one day, iTunes 11 will not work on Windows 10, or will no longer support podcasts. At that point, will I be forced to Rockbox, if it still exists? Their iPod Classic ports aren’t stable. Will I need to find a new media player, such as the Fiio Players? What will that mean for my metadata and smart playlists.

We’re going to a world where we may not have physical LPs or CDs for our music. As we age, what will guarantee we’ll be able to bring our music with us? Are we destined to copy our music from server to server (I hope you remembered that backup), or paying companies indefinitely to store it in the cloud? And when that cloud or drive goes “poof”, how will historians discover our music? Analog is essentially forever (or as long as the media lasts), but digital is remarkably ephemeral. Enjoy your music while you have it, for tomorrow it will be gone.

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Playing the Propaganda Card

I was thinking over the weekend about Donald Trump, Gamesmanship, and Nuclear War.

No, not that incident regarding Donald Trump, Gamesmanship, and Nuclear War. North Korea is so last week. I was thinking instead about the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, and the 1965 Flying Buffalo card game Nuclear War.

In the game Nuclear War, the objective is to be the last player (country) standing, if indeed any country is left standing. Players/countries can be eliminated in two ways. First, the use of nuclear weapons can reduce your population to zero or below. While potentially more fun, this approach has the drawback that players eliminated through weaponry have the opportunity to retaliate — to launch a final strike with any available weaponry they can piece together. The second way that a player can be eliminated is through propaganda.

In the game, propaganda can be used to convince another player’s population to move over to your side through the media and other approaches. They move over through their own volition; you haven’t made the decision, and thus no retaliatory strike, because who (after all) do you blame?

Think about this now in terms of Mueller’s investigation, the election involvement the Russians had, and Trump’s election as President. Mueller may never find evident that Russia directly changed a vote in an election system, or that Russia never directly worked with the Trump organization to influence the election. To do so would directly place the blame on Russia, just as firing a missile would. Instead, Russia played the propaganda card.

Russia influenced the influencers of the election. They played an expert propaganda game (in disguise) to influence the voting public with fake news, conspiracy theories, misdirection, and so forth. They magnified issues, help deflect away from other issues, and timed the release of information perfectly. They might not have made people vote for Trump, but they surely made people vote against Hillary — or just not vote at all. (The Democrats didn’t help by having a field of intrinsically weak candidates, but they didn’t see it at the time …. and this made it easier for Russia to sway the conspiracies.)

Here’s the kicker: In the 1950s and 1960s, at the height of the Cold War, American society was worried about “commies and pinkos” invading our media just for this purpose. Had this happened then, there would have been hearings, and Russia would have been held responsible and sanctioned for the meddling. But today? Many in the party that was most concerned about the “red menace” couldn’t care less, because they meddling worked to put them in power, and to question otherwise would be to weaken the legitimacy of their control of government. Given the choice of defending their country, or protecting their self interest and positions, self interest and position win again.

This leaves the party that was traditionally viewed as “leftist” to be the group most concerned about Russian interference in the last election, and most concerned about their doing it again in 2018.

I bet you wish this was a card game now.

[ETA: After some discussion on FB, a friend of mine kept arguing about how Hillary Clinton stank. I wrote the following in response, which really demonstrates the game Russia was playing: Propaganda is the art of making people think they smell shit when they are really smelling a rose, and thinking they are smelling a rose when they are really smelling shit.]

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The Importance of Visualizations

Visualizations and charts make our lives easier, and sometimes can give us insights we hadn’t considered before. Here are three examples:

 

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Difficult Decisions

A few days ago, I wrote a post titled “Navigating the Minefield” where I discussed three interesting societal divides: (1) how do we deal with old, potentially problematic, music; (2) the divide about coats on the UW Madison campus; and (3) how autonomous automobiles may have a significant impact on privacy. WIth respect to the following news chum items, item (1) is particularly applicable. Titled “The Music I Love Is a Racial Minefield“, it explored the problem of music, and playing songs that had problematic history, origins, or words — such as the Star Spangled Banner, where the full version as written includes a verse in which slave owner Francis Scott Key, an outspoken white supremacist, rails against “the hireling and the slave.”  I recommend everyone read that piece, which includes the following paragraph by an artist I enjoy, Dom Flemons (the American Songster):

“People are trying to find modern sensibilities in stuff that was not built on modern sensibilities,” Flemons told me. In 2015, he performed an instrumental version of Stephen Foster’s “Ring, Ring de Banjo” at a Foster-themed event with the Cincinnati orchestra. Foster’s racist lyrics are “absolutely unacceptable” nowadays, and “I would never think to perform that song outside the context of that specific show,” Flemons says. But these once-popular songs “are a document of what happened,” and failing to acknowledge that history would “completely devalue the strength of how far we’ve come.”

The following three news chum pieces evoked in me similar feelings to the “Racial Minefield” article, and are worthy of your consideration:

  • Sexual Predators. How do we separate the art from the artist? That’s a big question in these days of #MeToo and TimesUpNow. In particular, how do we treat the art created by these individuals we now know were predators and harassers? Can I still enjoy Fat Albert and Bill Cosby’s routines, knowing his history? What about watching “Annie Hall”? Vox has a great opinion piece on the subject titled “How to think about consuming art made by sexual predators“. It’s conclusion is that the answer is not easy. The basic conclusion, according to a historian consulted in the article, is to put everything in context: “As a historian, I strongly believe that it’s important that we keep these men’s work accessible. Woody Allen films are a genuinely important part of American film history. The Cosby Show is key to understanding representation in media and tangled issues of race, class, and acceptance. But I also can’t imagine watching old episodes simply for entertainment.” But where do you fall on the subject? Can you listen to Bill Cosby, or watch the artwork of Gaugain, the same anymore?
  • Smoking. In a somewhat similar vein is an article by Peter Filchia in Masterworks Broadway about the context of musical plots or dialogue that centers on smoking. Many shows were written at the time that smoking was ingrained in American society. Certainly the classic musicals of the 1950s make jokes about smoking. Look at the lines in musicals that refer to smoking, and look at the musical writers that also penned cigarette jingles. Filchia doesn’t draw a particular conclusion, but does really demonstrate how musicals are a product of their times. (Which, I’ll note, is why shows like Showboat remain problematic, as does the behavior of Rosemary in How to Succeed — how would we view today a woman that predatory towards her male boss?)
  • Confederate Iconography. The last article of interest is from Religion News, and has to do with changing names of things named after Confederate Icons. It is one thing to take down a stature, or to rename an elementary school that has no connection to the person. What do you do if you need to rename a church where he actually worshipped or was memorialized? This article, titled “Our church was named for Robert E. Lee — here is how we changed it” explores just that issue. It talks about three churches : (1) St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in downtown Richmond, which is the church Robert E. Lee and Confederate President Jefferson Davis attended during the Civil War; (2) Christ Church, in Alexandria, a 1773 Episcopal parish that claims George Washington and the Lee family as former worshippers; and (3) R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington VA, where Robert E. Lee was senior warden after he joined the church in 1865.

All four of these articles, which are fascinating reads, demonstrate why reconciling the facts of history with the emotion of people and with common sensibilities is never easy.

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