Bad Joke of the Week

One of a continuing series

A new monk arrives at a monastery, and his first assignment is to hand copy sacred texts. He gets to work at his task and soon notices something. He goes to the head monk to ask about it.

“I notice,” says the new monk, “we are copying copies, and then we are copying those copies.”

“So, what’s the problem?” asks the head monk.

“The problem is,” says the new monk, “that if a transcription error is made, then the error will get copied into all subsequent copies. What we should be doing is copying from the originals and not from copies.”

The head monk remarks that this is an important observation, and he vows to get the process started to copy from the originals. He takes his lamp and heads into the dark archives where the original copies are stored. After that nobody sees him for several hours.

The new monk takes a lamp and goes into the vast archive chamber to look for the head monk. He finds him, alone, at a table near the back wall, peering at an open manuscript. He is weeping inconsolably.

“Great father, what is the matter?” asks the new monk.

Tears running down his face, the head monk points to a line of ancient text. “It says ‘celebrate.'”

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This is your President speaking.

Number 123

 

And now a few words from the President of the United States:

Prior to departing Wisconsin, I was briefed on the shooting at Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. Thank you to all of the First Responders who are currently on the scene.

Many journalists are honest and great – but some are knowingly dishonest and basic scum. They should.be weeded out!

Sometimes there is nothing left to be said.

The Awful Truth

Number 4 in a Series

These are troubling times. The truth is becoming an endangered species. The history of threats is long. This is a story about The Washington  Post.

Katharine Graham was the daughter of Eugene Meyer, who purchased The Post at a bankruptcy sale in 1933. Katherine (Kay), went to work for the newspaper in 1933, and in 1938 she married Phillip Graham, then a clerk for Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter. When Eugene Meyer died in 1959 he bequeathed management responsibilities to Phillip instead of to his daughter. Eventually Phillip Graham’s health deteriorated, ,and he ended his own life in 1963. Katherine assumed management of the paper for the following twenty years. She died in 2001. 1971 was a critical time for The Post, it was marginally profitable, if at all. It was at this point the nature of The Post changed forever.

The story is told in the movie The Post, which was released last year and which features Meryl Streep as Katherine Graham and Tom Hanks as Post editor Ben Bradlee. An in-law lent me a copy of the DVD, whence these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Who would have thought there could be such drama in a movie where nobody gets killed, there are no sexual encounters, and huge amounts of money are not stolen in armored car heists? This movie packs tension and suspense into a 116-minute run time, and to give it justice I am illustrating with 35 images. There’s going to be more after a short review of the plot.

The opening scene shows young State Department military analyst, Daniel Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys), suiting up to head off into combat with U.S. troops in Vietnam. This is in 1966, a time when the heat was building fast. Forget my having promised nobody would die. We see troops being killed in an ambush.

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara (Bruce Greenwood) is in-country, and Ellsberg hears the secretary tell others he has great confidence in the way things are going. This is contrary to what McNamara has said in private, and it is contrary to what Ellsberg has put into his reports. Back home and working for the Rand Corporation, Ellsberg observes the government, now under a new administration, continues to propagate the myth. He takes action in the form of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and also the terms of his top secret clearance. In small packets he filches sections of the Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnam Task Force, a document that traces “United States Department of Defense history of the United States’ political and military involvement in Vietnam from 1945 to 1967.” He eventually makes copies of the document before returning the originals. He releases the copies to The New York Times.

Meanwhile, Katherine Graham is discussing the financial situation of  The Post. The solution is to take the paper public, executing an IPO, selling stock in the company to investors while retaining majority control.

Editor Ben Bradlee and his staff are others concerned about the newspaper. They are located down the street from the most powerful government in the world, yet their competitor, The New York Times, is getting first breaks on important political stories. Bradlee confers with his staff, and they conclude that Times reporter Neil Sheehan has been off the grid for days. What is he working on? Does The Times have a big story in gestation? Bradlee hands an intern $40 and tells him to take a train to New York, head over to The Times on 43rd Street, and find out what Sheehan is up to.

The intern crosses the street to the Times building, and he asks a UPS delivery man what floor the newsroom is on. The man tells him it’s the 6th, and while his back is turned, the intern steals an envelope from the top of the man’s stack and carries it into the building. He has no idea where to find Sheehan, so he gets on the elevator. Others get on. One of them is holding a markup of the next day’s front page. There is a big blank space with the name “Sheehan” written in. The intern hands over his purloined envelope to the man on the elevator and returns to Washington and tells Bradlee what he saw.

Simultaneously, Catherine has had a conversation with McNamara, who happens to be a personal friend of long standing. McNamara tells her there is hot water with The Times. They are about to run a story that is not complimentary to McNamara. Bradlee is desperate to get a lead on that story.

Meanwhile, Catherine negotiates with the bankers on the IPO. They want to  purchase stock at $24 and some change a share. That will mean The Post will lose the financial  wherewithal for 25 reporters.

The Times hits the street with the Pentagon Papers story, and is promptly enjoined by the government from publishing additional information. Bradlee is desperate to get ahead of the curve on this story, but his chances are grim.

Then, a bomb shell. A young woman steps out of a crowd on the street and enters the Post newsroom with a package. She places it on top of the typewriter of the first mature reporter she comes to, and then she leaves without saying anything more. When the reporter opens the package he discovers excerpts from the Pentagon Papers.

Bradlee has his entry into the story. But the most that can be determined is the source of the leak is possibly Ellsberg. Post reporters try to track him down. There is no Google, so they use the telephone. “May I speak to Daniel Ellsberg?” “Who?” Another call, “Daniel Ellsberg, please.” “He’s not in.” Bingo! Since there were no cell phones for the NSA to track in those days, they employed the time-tested use of random pay phones on the street. Assistant Editor Ben Bagdikian (Bob Odenkirk) makes the critical connection.

It’s a crucial time for The Post. The paper goes public on AMEX at the moment its value may drop close to zero.

But the pay phone operation yields gold. In a motel room Bagdikian meets with Ellsberg and receives a boatload of paper.

He carries it back to Washington, purchasing a first class ticket for it. At Bradlee’s house he gets help unloading his cargo from the taxi. Bradlee’s daughter is out front selling  lemonade.

Inside, the living room is turned into a sorting center. The papers are in no special order, and the editors need to make a story out of the mess.

Katherine Graham reaches a crisis as McNamara drops by for some serious talk.

McNamara protests that he had to make difficult decisions, and the reputation of the country is at stake. Katherine reminds him of the men who went to Vietnam under false pretenses, some of them friends and relatives. Also, there are those who died.

The Post has the story. To publish or not to publish? There is grave legal danger. Company lawyers urge holding off. Editors argue otherwise. If the government can deny publican in advance, then free press in the United States will be gone forever. Katherine says, “Do it.”

The story is proofed and sent down to the composing room by pneumatic tube. There the mechanical process of putting together news pages is put on  display. It is awsome to watch.

For the past many years newspaper composition has been done by computer. Something like Microsoft Word is used to create the page, and most likely something like laser printers are used to generate what is called “cold type.” The cold type is an aluminum foil with ink-philic areas forming the print, text and half-tone images. Then the foil is wrapped on a printing drum, and rolled against an inking drum. Ink transfers to the foil, which then rolls over a rubber “mattress,” which picks up the ink image. The rubber mattress drum then rolls over the paper, printing the image on the paper. It’s called “offset printing.”

In the old days they used “hot type.” The composing machine had a keyboard that selected molds for the characters. Molten metal (mostly lead) poured into the molds, making hard-face type. Pages of these metal typefaces were then mounted on drums which rotated, picking up ink and transferring ink to paper. These were huge machines.

The page is composed and then assembled into the presses. The printing deadline is nigh. It’s time to shit or get off the pot. Katherine receives stern advice not to publish. Bradlee is there. She tells him to roll it. He picks up the phone, rings the press floor and says, “Go.” The operator presses the critical button, setting in motion a train of events that cannot be reversed. It starts with a loud alarm bell. The presses are about to  turn, so people better get out of the way.

And the die is cast. Miles of newsprint run through the presses.

Workers scoop up bundles and bind them for distribution.

Workers at the dock load the bundles onto trucks.

Trucks roll out of the plant. There is no turning back now.

A staffer signals Bradlee that Assistant Attorney General of the Office of Legal Counsel William Rehnquist is on the line. Rehnquist advises Bradlee that publication of the story will be a violation of the Espionage Act. Bradlee thanks him for wasting his time (my words).

The story is already on the street. Literally. Bundles of papers are dropped off the backs of trucks for pick up by distributors, including a drop-off point in front of the White House.

Katherine wanders the newsroom, fretting over the consequences.

The Times reports the status. It has been enjoined from publishing, temporarily, while The Post escaped the ban.

There is no ambivalence elsewhere. Newspapers almost without exception join The Post, republishing the story. It is obvious to all that freedom of the press is at stake. Also significant, The Post has come up from  being a hometown newspaper. Any concerns on the part of the bankers can now be dispelled. The newspaper’s value has escalated.

The Supreme Court takes the case immediately.

Katherine Graham, waiting in line to attend the hearing, is approached by a government worker, a young woman carrying a box of documents into the chamber. She escorts Katherine into the chamber and reminds Katherine that she agrees with what The Post is doing. In the hearing a judge asks whether The Post would have published plans for the D-Day Invasion. The Post lawyer responds that a survey of past situational assessments hardly compares to a military operation. As Katherine exits the building, women along her path look on in admiration. Women are coming to power at this time, and she is clearly an exemplar.

The phone rings in the newsroom. The Court has reached a decision. It’s 6-3 in favor of The Times. Siding with the majority, Justice Black wrote, “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” In particular, the First Amendment has the intent of protecting the press and not the government.

Katherine continues to get the feel of her newspaper, visiting the composing room.

Strolling with Bradlee through the press room by the trucking dock.

Not all are pleased. A closing shot shows the outline of Richard Nixon months later, viewed through a White House window. The voice is likely ripped directly from the Oval Office tapes that would later haul him down. He says, “no reporter from the Washington Post is ever to be in the White House.”

One year later a security guard checks a door in the Watergate office complex that has had its lock taped over, and a resident at the adjacent Watergate Hotel phones police to report people using flashlights in the office complex. Two years after that, Nixon was forced to resign.

Ellsberg was subsequently prosecuted for his actions, but government misconduct in obtaining evidence against him resulted in the case being thrown out with prejudice. The Watergate break-in was associated with attempts to discern any connection between Ellsberg and the Democratic National Committee.

In more recent cases, people with access to classified data have leaked the contents, perhaps with Ellsberg in mind. To be sure, Ellsberg was guilty of a crime, and it was proper to prosecute him. What is not proper is to claim to be a martyr for a cause and not to suffer consequences. My thinking is that being a martyr means you are dead. In the case of the Pentagon Papers, public good was done.

I have held a government security clearance in the past, and I always took the papers I signed seriously. I was promised jail time and even execution if I divulged classified information. Beyond that, I find humor in government attempts to stifle dissemination of information once it is leaked. What happens when classified information is compromised is that it immediately becomes available to our country’s enemies, and the only result of restricting additional dissemination is to  keep the secret from the American people. Which is often the purpose. There are things that would be damaging if our enemies has access, and that would be even more damaging if the voters have access. Yeah, it goes that way.

I have previous critiqued the case of Edward Snowden, and I have low regard for his actions. He revealed our government was doing some unsavory things (spying on friendly governments), but these were not illegal actions. Furthermore, divulging this information was damaging to our intelligence operations, unlike releasing the Pentagon Papers. Snowden wants to come home as a hero, forgetting that one must first die to become a martyr. He chose to seek refuge with one of this country’s most worrisome enemies, and it is my hope he will remain there to enjoy the fruits of his folly.

The fate of The Washington Post is a primary theme of the movie, and it’s a problem that has been amplified by emerging technologies. The list is long. The advent of cold type (offset printing) eliminated the jobs of multitudes of typesetters. Word processors and laser printers eliminated the work of many cold type composers. Word processing software has streamlined the story creation and editing process, definitely reducing the number of openings for spell checkers. The advent of Web publishing is threatening to eliminate all print journalism. Now anybody with a cheap computer and an Internet connection can be a publisher—that you are reading this now demonstrates the point.

A thing that cannot be eliminated easily is the work of source reporters, people who do the leg work, go to the sites, interview the people, record what they observe, and make it all into a coherent story that somebody will pay to read. Others attempt to take the place of these journalists, and the result has been a dilution of truth in the news. The ability to publish with minimal cost and with zero accountability is working adversely to mold public opinion. Concerned readers can work to counter this by underwriting mainstream journalism. If you are like me, you are no longer settled to the point you can receive a daily newspaper, 1/4 of which you might read, at your door every day.

The recourse, a path I have taken, is to subscribe to mainstream news on-line. We have a president who seeks with determination, to undermine mainstream news, casting outlets, such as The New York Times,  as “fake news.” He also echoes, “Failing NYT.” And the NYT is down on subscriptions and  revenue since decades past. In response to the president’s attacks I have counterattacked by obtaining an on-line subscription to The Times. My few dollars a month subscription gets me the news I am looking for in a form I can use in my work. Quotes, even from decades past, can be tracked down and copied for quotation in my postings.

Readers concerned about the survival of truth in news are encouraged to subscribe on-line. Nearly all publications include  this option. Consider subscribing to one or more of the following:

  • New York Times
  • Washington Post
  • Los Angeles Times
  • Dallas Morning News
  • Houston Chronicle
  • Boston Globe
  • Philadelphia Inquirer
  • Kansas City Star
  • Detroit Free Press

There are many more. An on-line subscription means the-ink to-paper intermediary is being  eliminated, writers are getting paid for their efforts, and healthy sources of information are being preserved. Act for your own best interests.

Heart of Dimness

Here is number 13

At the bottom of this page there is a section for comment, and there is a box for readers who want to leave a comment. I moderate these comments with the intent to approve all.  Ones I do not approve are those obviously spam or otherwise not related to  the topic of the original post.

As a result I receive comments expressing opposing views, and you might think I approve these out of an exalted sense of fairness, and that is partly true. Another reason I try to approve opposing comments is that they often reinforce the theme of this blog, ,that theme being that Skeptical Analysis can bring light to controversial issues. In so many cases it turns out that those who think they are giving weight to their wrong-headed notions are, in effect, doing the opposite. People pushing back against what I purport to be my voice of reason often reveal, in their comments, their lack of understanding, effectively reinforcing my original post. At other times the person posting a comment inadvertently reveals something else about where he/she is coming from.

Without much elaboration, what (eventually) follows is a comment to something I posted two years ago. The title of the original is “44 Reasons Why Evolution Is Just A Fairy Tale For Adults,” and it reflects the title of an item posted on a site called D.C. Clothesline, and here is what I had to say at the time:

This is amazing. I picked this link off my Facebook feed Friday and took a quick read. I am pasting it here:

The theory of evolution is false.  It is simply not true.  Actually, it is just a fairy tale for adults based on ancient pagan religious philosophy that hundreds of millions of people around the world choose to believe with blind faith.  When asked to produce evidence for the theory of evolution, most adults in the western world come up totally blank.  When pressed, most people will mumble something about how “most scientists believe it” and how that is good enough for them.  This kind of anti-intellectualism even runs rampant on our college campuses.  If you doubt this, just go to a college campus some time and start asking students why they believe in evolution.  Very few of them will actually be able to give you any real reasons why they believe it.  Most of them just have blind faith in the priest class in our society (“the scientists”).  But is what our priest class telling us actually true?  When Charles Darwin popularized the theory of evolution, he didn’t actually have any evidence that it was true.  And since then the missing evidence has still not materialized.  Most Americans would be absolutely shocked to learn that most of what is taught as “truth” about evolution is actually the product of the overactive imaginations of members of the scientific community.  They so badly want to believe that it is true that they will go to extraordinary lengths to defend their fairy tale.  They keep insisting that the theory of evolution has been “proven” and that it is beyond debate.  Meanwhile, most average people are intimidated into accepting the “truth” about evolution because they don’t want to appear to be “stupid” to everyone else.

In this day and age, it is imperative that we all learn to think for ourselves.  Don’t let me tell you what to think, and don’t let anyone else tell you what to think either.  Do your own research and come to your own conclusions.  The following are 44 reasons why evolution is just a fairy tale for adults…

My post from two years ago involved language that addressed each of the author’s 44 points. As of yesterday I count four responses to my original post, and here I submit the most recent.

It funny that very evidence your looking for from your statement is right there every-time you look in the mirror, breathe, eat or poop, your quoted “The entire theory of evolution is based on blind faith.” Yes! All of it! Luckily, creationism requires no act of blind faith… All it asks of you is to accept the existence of an omnipotent creator” if you or anything on this earth were not perfect first time nothing not bacteria would exist ……… Not once did the did you respond to anything with factual information or try to disprove it all you had was condescending childish retorts and sarcasm, your a fool and made yourself look foolish while trying to dismiss the article, that presented fact while showing error as opposed to your troll attack ….. smh in the end you’ll find out but then it will be too late

As I typically do, I copied and pasted the writer’s original text, making no attempt at correcting the language, which says something about the person posting the response. This is possibly reason number 12 I created and maintain the Skeptical Analysis blog.

Your Friend The Handgun

Number 117

ABC World News Tonight with David Muir streaming on Hulu

The Second Amendment ensures the right of citizens to arm themselves for their own protection and for the protection of others. Tell that to Jeremy Webster of Colorado:

DENVER — A 12-year-old boy told police he saw a driver open fire on his family during a road rage confrontation in Colorado, killing his older brother and critically wounding his mother and younger brother, authorities said Friday. Police arrested Jeremy Webster, 23, hours after the shooting that killed a 13-year-old boy and also wounded a bystander not related to the family.

Apparently that did not turn out well for Jeremy. Fortunately for him, or maybe not, he had no past criminal record, so he was allowed to possess a firearm. Knowing he had “mental issues” and was on “new medication,” he failed to relinquish his right to carry. I’ve been told by others that people can obtain insurance coverage to protect themselves in case their use of a firearm causes harm. I’m guessing instances such as this are addressed by exclusion clauses somewhere down in the fine print. Tell that to Meghan Bigelow, who is now hospitalized in critical condition, her oldest son dead and another wounded. I am sure Meghan would rather not sue if she could only get her son back.

ABC World News Tonight with David Muir streaming on Hulu

It’s what we are willing to pay for the right to  “protect ourselves.”

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I knew I would get around to this one eventually. It’s Saturday Night Fever, from 1977. In case you forgot, that was 41 years ago. Seems like yesterday. Currently it’s streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

It was a time when the calendar snagged on a theme and came to a halt for a few years. Then the snag broke, and we broke free, into the Reagan years and beyond. But while the clock stood still, disco was it, along with its signature polyester suits. This is a story built on the fad but not based on it. It’s the story of Anthony “Tony” Manero (John Travolta) coming of age in period Brooklyn.

And here he is, Travolta as Tony, looking as cool as anybody possibly could while hoofing it down a Brooklyn street carrying a bucket of paint.

I’ve been to Brooklyn before, but not here. Opening shots show the newly-constructed Verrazano–Narrows Bridge nearby.

Tony, fresh out of high school, lives with his parents and works in a paint store. Surprisingly, he is successful at his job, and he has a future there. But his outer life is disco, which he experiences in a local club, 2001, and is a star. He grooms his persona with slavish attention to his hair and an intense cultivation of style. He eats dinner with his working-class family, keeping his new shirt covered with a cloth. As fabulous as his other life is, his family life is drab by comparison. His father, long the family provider as a construction worker, is out of work since four months. Family meals are an exercise in recrimination.

Tony pals with some loser friends, who make 2001 a regular hangout. In the movie we see the gang cruising around in a clunky car that, when parked at the curb, doubles as a sex mobile. One of the gang is Annette (Donna Pescow), a frequent dance partner, who has an unhealthy sexual fixation on Tony. She wants some sack time, but she will not dismiss her Catholic upbringing and practice birth control. Tony is adamant and brushes off Annette’s advances, but he agrees to partner with her in a coming competition.

But Tony’s attention is drawn to a brighter flame in the person of Stephanie Mangano (Karen Lynn Gorney). He ditches Annette and teams with Stephanie.

This was Travolta’s breakout role. His acting is solid, and audiences were stunned by his moves. He became an icon, along with the Bee Gees, of the era.

Then Tony’s world cracks. He and Annette give a moving and sensual performance in the contest, and they are declared the winners. But Tony recognizes that the performance by a Latino couple, lit by fire and brilliance, should have scored the win. He sees bias against the Latinos as something that permeates his society. He hands over the first place trophy to the other couple and storms out.

Tony has a thing for Stephanie, and outside the club he gets into the car with her and puts the move on her, insistently. She repulses him and storms off. Then comes Annette. She is stoned, and two of the boys, take turns with her. Then the gang heads out to the bridge, where they are fond of playing pranks. Bobby, goes to far and plunges from the bridge. Police are unable to find his body in the water at night.

I was taken back by the bridge scenes—there were a couple. How do these kids get away with parking a car on the bridge, let along playing pranks on the suspension cables and the safety rail? I’ve never seen where this was allowed, even  possible.

Tony chucks the whole thing and rides the subway all night. In the morning he goes to where Stephanie has moved in Manhattan and wakes her. She agrees to get something going with him again, overlooking  the previous night’s behavior.

We are left to conclude that Tony now has his life together and will have a future with Stephanie., and it’s the end of the movie. It was hard not to notice that Tony does not mention Bobby’s death to Stephanie, which is the first topic that would come up in the real world.

So it’s a coming of age story, popular in past decades, but here upstaged by disco. The public face of the movie is Travolta’s dance performances, which for the first 15 minutes seem to be about the whole substance.

Travolta caught public attention as Vincent “Vinnie” Barbarino in the TV series Welcome Back, Kotter (1975 – 1979). Prior to this movie he appeared in The Devil’s Rain and Carrie, previously reviewed. He later Starred in Grease. I also reviewed Blow Out

This is your President speaking.

Number 122

And now a few words from the President of the United States:

The Red Hen Restaurant should focus more on cleaning its filthy canopies, doors and windows (badly needs a paint job) rather than refusing to serve a fine person like Sarah Huckabee Sanders. I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!

Some may think I post these presidential proclamations in great agony. That could not be more far from the truth. It is with great pleasure that I present proclamations of the President of the United States on these pages. They are, after all, part of the historical record of my beloved country. In earlier days I might have posted other words of great historical significance. Here are a few samples from our nation’s past:
  • When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
  • We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
  • But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate—we can not consecrate—we can not hallow—this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
  • Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
So much for that. It has now come to this:
  • I always had a rule, if a restaurant is dirty on the outside, it is dirty on the inside!
So let it be said. So let it be done. We sail forward into a brave future with a fool at the helm.

Dying to Believe

Number 111 in a series

When nothing else will save their lives, people often resort to remedies guaranteed not to save their lives. The quack practitioners position themselves to  profit from the misfortune of others:

“It was always game on for him. His generosity and sense of humour lasted till the end. He was brave without ever being dramatic. In a word, Jeff was inspirational.”

In 2007 Healey underwent surgery to remove cancerous tissue from his legs and both lungs. Radiation and chemotherapy failed to halt the spread of the disease, as did alternative homeopathic treatment in the U.S. this year.

Homeopathy did not kill guitarist Jeff Healey. Neither did it contribute anything of value to his final days.

Quiz Question

This is from an Internet puzzle site, so don’t go searching for it on the Web. They posted it as an interactive game. You’re supposed to drag and drop the remaining numbers into the blank spaces inside the rings. Make the total inside each ring the same.

Post your answer as a comment below. You don’t have to show a picture. Just list the added numbers from left to right.

This is your President speaking.

Number 121 in a long series

And now a few words from the President of the United States:

We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came. Our system is a mockery to good immigration policy and Law and Order. Most children come without parents…

This posting is not directed toward everybody. I pulled this one up to indulge those who voted for Donald Trump. And the message is clear. Either Donald Trump has a mental problem, or else those who voted for him do. I will leave that for readers to decide.

Bad Movie of the Week

Number 225 of a series

People who follow this series possibly will not believe it, but I never heard of it before. Here it is. In Great Britain there was a drama series based on the character of Paul Temple, a crime fiction writer who lends a hand solving actual crimes. Starting in 1938 a series based on the character ran on British radio, and ultimately there were four movie adaptations. This was the first, Calling Paul Temple, with John Bentley in the title role. This came out in 1948, 70 years ago, and it is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from  Wikipedia.

The movie runs for 90 minutes, and I watched it through once. That said, I found the plot intertwined enough to fuzz my diminishing wit, so I will fall back to sketching the plot and explaining what I was able to discern.

The opening scene you can tell is on a train, because everything is shaking  and swaying back and forth, and there is train noise. It’s the night express from London to Canterbury, and the conductor is going around punching tickets. When he gets to one compartment the occupant a comely and apparently well heeled blonde woman is dead. Further examination reveals she has been knifed. When the shade to the compartment is pulled down, the word “REX” is revealed written on the inside. This is the third of the Rex murders, and police are baffled.

There is more to come. We can tell this production spares no expense by the lavish set that opens scene two. It’s a swank night club, and patrons are sitting around at tables enjoying sumptuous meals while the floor show features a smashing blond chanteuse, Norma Rice (Celia Lipton) with a lovely voice delivering forth an absolutely vacuous number that goes on and on, chewing up celluloid by the yard.

Much as she is wonderful to look at, we are glad when the song is over, and she retires to prepare for her next number. At a table we see Paul Temple and his gorgeous wife (Dinah Sheridan) named, incongruously, “Steve.” They are joined by Sir Graham Forbes (Jack Raine), apparently with Scotland Yard. He wants to discuss the Rex murders.

He could not have come to a more auspicious place for the discussion, because immediately after her opening number, Norma goes to her dressing room to change. While there she pens a note to Sir Graham, asking him to come to see after her second number. She says she may be able to help him with the Rex murders.

Her dresser takes the message and heads for the club floor, and in the corridor she encounters a woman dressed in a gray suit going  the other way. The woman enters Norma’s dressing room.

Shortly, Norma makes an entrance and sings another number, accompanied by a bevy of charming womanhood. At one point in her song she is near the top of those stairs, seen in the shot above, when she collapses and falls down the stairs. Of course she dies. Of course she has been poisoned.

Paul and Steve accompany Sir Graham go up to Norma’s room to look for clues. The dresser tells about the woman in gray but can give no additional details. Steve strikes something with the toe of her shoe, and it’s a unique lipstick. Not thinking it might be a clue, she filches it for herself, and it is never revealed again in the movie, although there are subsequent references to this particular cosmetic brand from Egypt.

And now I’m going to cut out a lot of stuff. Paul scans the news, which is about the murders and the “girl in grey.” Also, on a road trip to Canterbury, Paul and Steve get ambushed by a man who is waiting alongside the road in a classic touring car and gets off four shots at them, sending their roadster into the bushes. They catch a lorry back to London.

The touring car traces back to one Dr. Kohima (Abraham Sofaer). It was his car alongside the lonely English road, but he was not driving, and neither was his chauffeur, who was on vacation in  Ireland. Somebody “borrowed” the car and then returned it. The mystery deepens.

Paul decoys Dr. Kohima out of the room on the premise of phoning about his car while Paul rifles the doctor’s files. He discovers the names of murdered women among the doctor’s patients. This is suspicious. Also, Dr. Kohima is Egyptian.

It deepens further when Dr. Kohima’s assistant, Mrs. Trevellyan (Margaretta Scott), pulls Paul aside and confides. She cannot talk at the office. She must meet him at her place after work. She gives Paul the address and the time to meet, 6:30.

Well Paul and Steve show up at the appointed time, only to find the door ajar and Mrs. Trevellyan gone. The clock on the mantle displays 6:15, and they shortly discover it is not running. They find a scrap of paper with four names produced by a typewriter in all caps: Mary Anderson, Lady Hackwill, Agatha Ladycross, and May Haddington. In script at the bottom is “Sent. B.T.” Steve holds up a desk pad to a mirror to read another cryptic message. Then they discover the ticking sound they hear is not the clock, but it is a time bomb. Steve rips the explosive charge loose and tosses it out the window, whereupon it goes off with a deafening roar. The timing mechanism is left intact for future examination.

It later turns out, as Mrs. Trevellyan explains, that she was lured out of her flat by a hoax phone call.

Skipping over some more detail, the woman in gray comes to  Paul’s flat while he and Steve are at lunch, and she sends the houseboy (Shaym Bahadur as Rikki) to  fetch Paul. After Rikki leaves, the woman starts to  pen a note to Paul. The note reads:

Mr. Temple,

In case anything should happen to prevent me seeing you, this is to tell you that REX is

She never gets to finish the note. The doorbell rings about that time, and she goes to the door.

Whoever was at the door shoots and kills the woman in gray, who then falls dead on the floor inside.

Skipping over more detail.

The whole deal is a blackmail plot. Somebody has snooped on Dr. Koshima’s files and is using information on patients to extort money. One guess is that some victims are being murdered to put the scare into the others. Then Paul’s friend Edward Lathom (Alan Wheatley) tells Paul that he is being blackmailed, as well. He cannot reveal his guilty secret, and he intends to pay off. He has been  instructed to leave the money in the Old Friar’s Monastery in Canterbury.

Paul and Steve arrange to be there when the blackmailer comes to collect. The collection agent turns out to be Mrs. Trevellyan.

Winding this down, Paul and Steve get lured back to the monastery, and are captured by a villain I was unable to identify but who binds them to a pillar and opens a sluice from the river to flood the chamber, sentencing them to a slow death. Along come reinforcements, and they are rescued.

Which brings it all to a head. The usual suspects gather in Dr. Kohima’s office to settle matters. Mrs. Trevellyan, who has been in a hypnotic trance induced by the doctor is now brought around. She had been blackmailed into divulging Kohima’s files. She is ready to reveal the name of the blackmailer. In the darkened room a shot rings out. She is wounded, and the perpetrator makes his escape.

It’s Edward Lathom. But the outer door is locked, and he can’t get out.

Neither can the others escape the inner office, for that door locked automatically, as well. Paul scales a drain pipe and corners Lathom in an upper floor. They struggle over the gun. A shot rings out. Lathom appears at the top of the stairs with the gun. Paul jumps him from behind and subdues him on the stairs. The murder mystery is resolved.

It’s a convoluted plot, and I left a lot out. A bunch of it is contrived. In multiple instances (3) we have victims about to reveal what they know, only to be cut short at the last moment. Mrs. Trevellyan survives. The woman in gray is murdered in Paul’s apartment and the next scene shows the crime mess all cleaned up and no sign of police snooping about looking for clues. Somebody ambushes Paul and Steve on the road to Canterbury, using Dr. Kohima’s car, which leads Paul and the police back to Kohima and the undoing  of the blackmailer.

Production quality is at or above par for the period, vis the elaborate nightclub set swarming with extras. Acting is dead on, and director Maclean Rogers keeps the action and the scenes visual and dynamic. I imagine Francis Durbridge‘s original plot exhibited more relevance, which was then subverted for the exigencies of making the movie.

Bad Joke of the Week

One of a continuing series

Getting old is terrible. Each day brings another reality. I came back from my walk in the park, and when I took the elevator up to my apartment I noticed the door was open. I went in, and there stood Margaret. Two suitcases were on the floor.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“I’m leaving you.”

“Any explanation?”

“You are deadly dull, and I regret I wasted so much of my life with you. I’ve found somebody else. Goodbye. I won’t be coming back.”

And she left with her suitcases, closing the door behind her. I stood there for a moment, wondering what to do next. It wasn’t time for dinner, so I picked up the newspaper and sat down to read. The door opened and Benson walked in.

“Chambers,” he said. “You’ve done it again.”

“Done what?”

“Look at this.” The door was still open, and he showed it to me. “See, number? 105.”

“So?”

“You’re number 104. You’ve come to the wrong apartment again.”

“You’re right. So I have.” I got up to leave.”

“Oh, Chambers, that’s my paper,” he said.”

“Oh, yes. Sorry.” I handed him the paper and started out the door.

I was about to leave when I thought of something. “Oh, Benson.”

“What is it?”

“You’re wife’s left you.”

This is your President speaking.

Number 120 in a long series

And now a few words from the President of the United States:

“I REALLY DON’T CARE, DO U?” written on the back of Melania’s jacket, refers to the Fake News Media. Melania has learned how dishonest they are, and she truly no longer cares!

Way to tell them, Mr. President. And who should know more about fake news than you?

Your Friend The Handgun

Nothing new here, folks (number 116).

What’s better than encountering an active shooter while you are dining is three active shooters while you are dining.

Armed bystanders kill shooter at Oklahoma City restaurant

You may puzzle at why I am posting this story, since it obviously depicts the argument gun fans posit for arming citizens. Here a bad guy with a gun was thwarted by a good guy with a gun. Actually two good guys with guns. So how is this an anti-gun message.

Stop here for a moment. Who is against guns? You need to look somewhere else to find an anti-gun person. Coming from somebody who used to earn a paycheck by handling stuff that puts handguns in the same league as paper airplanes, that would be a hypocritical position for me to take. What I am opposed to is citizens walking the streets packing heat, and I additionally oppose the idea of having deadly weapons (handguns) much too convenient.

But wasn’t the convenience of handguns (on the part of the two good guys) exactly what solved this active shooter situation? Does somebody really want to argue that point? Examine.

First, a bad guy with a gun creates a deadly situation. All right, a potentially deadly situation, but I’m not giving him points for having a bad aim. Then the deadly situation comes to a conclusion as the bad guy exits the scene.

At this point the two good guys create a second deadly situation, only their aim is dead on, and the situation really is deadly. But what better outcome could you ask for? (you may ask.) Aside from having police arrive immediately and disarm the bad guy, I cannot imagine a better outcome. I can imagine a worse outcome, one of many. And that would be two more good guys with guns getting shot by a bad guy who suddenly finds his handgun’s front sight. Worse, some unlucky citizen getting caught in the amateurish crossfire, and the bad guy making a clean getaway.

For the information of those (that would include me) who have never been in such a situation, the outcome of this matter is less than rosy. Two good guys, heroes that they are, now face problems they never had before. To enumerate:

  • Facing charges of firing off a handgun within the city.
  • Facing charges of second degree homicide.
  • Facing a lawsuit from the bad guy’s kin.
  • Spending several hours out of the ones they have remaining on this planet dealing with the repercussions.
  • Having their gun permits revoked.
  • Having to pay for their own ammunition.

But wait! This series is about people discovering too late that their association with a handgun turned out not to be the walk on a beach they thought it would be. But, who here most regrets his decision to pack heat. Turn back to the news item. The prime loser is Alexander C. Tilghman, 28, of Oklahoma City, who would now be regretting his decision to slap leather, except that he is dead and unable to regret anything.

I don’t know about you folks, but I’m feeling safer already.

People Unclear

This is number 44 of a series

When I run low on issues to post about, I can reliably turn to the matter of people unclear. These are people who leave the impression they were taking a bathroom break when the operating instructions were handed out. Do I poke fun at these people? Yes, I do, and it’s not being cruel. It’s not being cruel when explanation has been provided again and again, and when the facts are clearly laid out but willfully ignored. Shame!

Here’s another one and additional proof that I usually do not conduct my own research. This came by way of Yahoo News, penned by Jack Baer, to whom thanks go for due diligence. The matter concerns Washington State University football coach Mike Leach and his off-kilter Sunday pastime. Here’s from Yahoo News:

Mike Leach spends Father’s Day arguing on Twitter about heavily edited Barack Obama conspiracy video

Mike Leach could have spent his Father’s Day doing so many fun things, like a family dinner or golfing (OK, probably not golfing). Heck, he probably could have just spent the day recruiting like Nick Saban probably did.

Instead, Leach honored the occasion by tweeting out a clearly fake video of Barack Obama and spending hours arguing about it with strangers on the internet [sic].

Whoa! Tweeting out a fake video? Featuring former President Barack Obama? Where’s the news in that? I recall a recent eight-year period when this activity was a nation-wide sport, with points given for originality. Before I go further, take a look at the video:

Since this is a competitive event, I am giving points for the various elements (1 – 5):

  • Originality: 1
  • Execution: 2
  • Difficulty: 1
  • Audacity: 5

If audacity were the only element scored, then Coach Leach would be heading for the playoffs. Writer Jack Baer has more, and it contains some interesting revelations.

First, Coach Leach has 100,000 Twitter followers. Who would have thought? And he shared the video with his 100,000 followers. See? That’s how word gets around.

Second, Mike Leach received push back from a number of the tweetees. An example:

Replying to 

This video is a hoax. This was given and selectively clipped from a speech to the EU in Brussels. Be better than this.

Now for the kicker. Coach Leach punted back:

Replying to 

Prove it. Irrelevant anyway. We are discussing ideas. Do one or the other

Prove it! Prove it? How many ways are there to spell “brass balls?” All that is necessary to “prove it” is to replay the original, unedited speech. Irrelevant? That the video is a fake is irrelevant? Has “irrelevant” been given a new meaning?

In his original tweet, since deleted, Coach Leach introduced the video with these words:

Listen to this. Text your thoughts. There is a lot of disagreement on government, so I think that an open discussion is always in order. Tweet your thoughts. Maybe we can all learn something.

He wants readers to listen up, pay attention. He wants their thoughts. He wants open discussion. For those still unclear, you do not seek open discussion by opening with a lie. As Jack Baer explains, responders presented proof the video was fake. When you are truly unclear, what do you do when  presented with evidence you are truly unclear? You provide additional evidence that you are truly unclear. Here’s another exchange:

Replying to 

He’s speaking about Russian aggression in Ukraine. You cannot say “Discussion” when you’re entire invitation is built on a false premise.

The link is to the unedited speech. The coach elects to dig in:

Replying to 

What is false. Please clarify. Does this ever happen to Trump or any other politicians?!

First, the sentence “What is false” should have been spelled “What is false?” It is supposed to be a question. Then, maybe not. Perhaps Coach Leach does not consider it to be a question. Perhaps he’s making a point. “Who cares what is false?”
Does this ever happen to Trump or any other politicians?!
Double punctuation question mark and exclamation mark. A question shouted out loud and with force. But what does the question mean? Is this actually a statement: “This kind of stuff happens to Trump all the time. And other politicians, besides, so I’m not picking on Obama.” Putting aside whether this should ever be done (fake videos, fake stories) by anybody about anybody, I want to dive into the mind of Coach Leach. How about Trump, and how about how he is treated? Is all this stuff about President Trump fabricated? Is it all fake, a bunch of lies? More so, is any of it fake? Let’s see.

 

Yeah, that will about do it with whether this stuff is fake.

There is more from Jack Baer:

All told, Leach asked Twitter users to “prove it” nine different times (123456789) as he continued to march through the internet battlegrounds, conveniently missing the many people trying to provide him with proof the video he shared was fake.

At one point, Leach asked a Twitter user a point-blank question that essentially summed up the whole exercise: “What’s a fact?

Specifically:

Replying to  

What’s a fact?

And that does it. When you are arguing a point with somebody, and they ask, “What is a fact,” it’s time to throw in the towel. That’s another sports figure of speech, and it means it’s time to quit. You’re wasting your time. You are obviously dealing with somebody unclear.

The matter of questioning fact is a topic covered in two books I finished reading this month:

Here are some pertinent excerpts:

My hope is to capture and share the experience of more than fifty years in the intelligence profession, to impart the pride that intelligence officers take in their work, the care with which they consider the ethical implications of surveillance and espionage, and the patriotism and willingness to sacrifice that they bring to the job. And finally, I intend to show that what Russia did to the United States during the 2016 election was far worse than just another post–Cold War jab at an old adversary. What happened to us was a sustained assault on our traditional values and institutions of governance, from external as well as internal pressures. In the wake of that experience, my fear is that many Americans are questioning if facts are even knowable, as foreign adversaries and our national leaders continue to deny objective reality while advancing their own “alternative facts.” America possesses great strength and resilience, but how we rise to this challenge—with clear-eyed recognition of the unbiased facts and by setting aside our doubts—is entirely up to us. I believe the destiny of the American ideal is at stake.

Clapper, James R.. Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in Intelligence (p. 4). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Deeply involved in this is the question of truth. It was no accident that the Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year in 2016 was “post-truth,” a condition where objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. Liberal British academic and philosopher A. C. Grayling characterized the emerging post-truth world to me as “over-valuing opinion and preference at the expense of proof and data.” Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl predicted that the term could become “one of the defining words of our time.”

Hayden, Michael V.. The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies (p. 3). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Both of these writers are retired military generals, both worked in military and civilian intelligence for the United States Government. Both consider, rightly, that useful intelligence is based on fact and not on hopes and preferences. When you want to know how many battle tanks the enemy has facing you, you might wish there were only 15, but if there really are 400, then you need to  know this fact. There is evidence we have an administration for which facts are negotiable. Call me concerned.

An additional fact came out of the Yahoo News story, besides the fact that his employer responded to the episode by issuing a statement: “As a private citizen, Mike Leach is entitled to his personal opinions,” the statement said. “Coach Leach’s political views do not necessarily reflect the views of Washington State University students, faculty and staff.” That additional fact is that Coach Leach is the highest paid employee of the state of Washington—$3.5 million.

Quite obviously there are a number of people unclear in the state of Washington.

This is your President speaking.

Number 119 in a long series

And now a few words from the President of the United States:

Why was the FBI giving so much information to the Fake News Media. They are not supposed to be doing that, and knowing the enemy of the people Fake News, they put their own spin on it – truth doesn’t matter to them!

You tell them, Mr. President. While you still have time.

Bad Movie Wednesday

One of a continuing series

I reached back 30 years to retrieve this one. From 1988 it’s Eight Men Out, based on the book of the same name by Eliot Asinof. Of course, it’s about the 1919 baseball scandal involving players of the Chicago White Sox, who took money from gamblers and threw the World Series. It’s currently streaming on Hulu, where I obtained these screen shots. Details are from Wikipedia.

Opening shots tend toward sepia, supposedly to reflect the era, 99 years ago. A jazz track overlays the opening credits to enhance the mood. We see two young boys, avid White Sox fans, coins in their fist, ditching a sandlot game to run down to Comiskey Park, home field of the Sox and at the time named after team owner Charles Comiskey (Clifton James). They pay their quarter and take grandstand seats, barely able to see the game over the adult fans, who are constantly on their feet, cheering their team as it clenches the American League championship against the St. Louis Cardinals.

But others in the stands are not so much interested in the game as in the players. They are already looking forward to the World Series and figuring out which Sox players can be compromised. Later in a bar a one-time prize fighter introduces himself to a couple of the Sox players and begins the process of grooming them to throw the game, at the rate of $10,000 per participant.

Nobly assisting the grooming process is Comiskey, notoriously stingy, low-balling players’ salaries (this was decades before free agency). Here he confronts pitcher Eddie Cicotte (David Strathairn). He had promised Cicotte a $10,000 bonus if he won 30 games in the season. But Comiskey pulled Cicotte after he won 29 games and saved himself $10,000.

The schemers find an underwriter for their scam in the person of New York mobster Arnold Rothstein (Michael Lerner). He will front the money to pay off the players, and he will take his profit by laying bets on the National League Cincinnati Reds. But the scammers scam the players, as well. They pay them half in advance, and put the other half out on bets, which half the players will never see in this life.

And the center piece is the Series, best 5 out of 9. In game 1 Cicotte takes revenge on Comiskey by dribbling balls to the Cincinnati batters. Presently the Sox are two  games down, but they catch fire in game 3 and show their true form. Here a Sox fielder snags an inning-ending fly ball and tosses his glove as he prances from the field. It’s a scene I found hard to fathom, since leaving a glove on the field was something never done even in sandlot ball.

Yeah, it’s obvious to any who watched that the Sox were throwing the games. Word of the scheme is afloat, and concerned officials scan the stats as the series progresses, pinpointing where players performed well below expectation.

The Sox lose 3 to 5, and word is out the series was fixed. There is a trial, an odd one at that. Since playing poorly and collaborating with gamblers was not, in itself, a crime at the time, a complaint is lodged against the player by a gambler who lost money betting on the Sox. He claims he was a victim of fraud. Crowds watch as players file in and out of grand jury hearings, and the iconic scene has one of the young fans confronting Shoeless Joe Jackson (D. B. Sweeney) begging “Say it isn’t so, Joe.” Of course this is a bit of fiction. There never was such an encounter. It’s from a headline written by a sports writer at the time.

Surprise! The players are acquitted. No surprise, they are banned from professional baseball for life.

The movie ends as an older Joe Jackson is shown playing amazing ball for a semi-pro team.

Actors were hired for their playing ability and the film features some excellent plays, but you need to wonder how often the actors had to reshoot scenes to get the plays right.

This is your President speaking.

Number 118 in a long series

And now a few words from the President of the United States:

Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!

Although I do so much appreciate hearing what the president has to say, there are times I wish he would discuss matters related to home-grown criminality.