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OT: Amazon steps on third rail with Tolkien’s Rings of Power

We interrupt this blog on important global events to talk about something that probably doesn’t amount to a hill of beans in the end but it’s been bugging me so I’m going to talk about it.

Has anyone seen the trailer for Amazon’s Lord of the Rings prequel called The Rings of Power? It premiered during the Super Bowl. Here it is:

You probably saw the point of contention right away. In an effort to make the series more inclusive and diverse, Amazon has created a black elf and dwarf. Then, when some die hard Tolkienistas complained of blasphemy, Amazon attacked them.

Ok, ok, ok, that last bit really pissed me off. It reminds me of the Obama campaign and how if you had legitimate issues with Obama’s unreadiness to be president due to inexperience or mysterious financial backers or that he was deliberately putting the working class on an ice floe during the campaign, you were immediately and mercilessly accused of racism. If you were a commenter back in 2008, you know why we had to put the words “racism” and “racists” on a banned word list. It was because people who wanted to talk about their problems with Obama that had nothing to do with his skin color couldn’t get a word in edgewise and were very hurt that their characters were being dragged through the mud by Obama operatives who showed up here to try to shame us to fall into line.

So, this same phenomenon appears to be happening to die hard Tolkienistas. And I am not disagreeing that some die hard fans are irrationally opposed to POC portraying some of the characters. I think they’re being unreasonable but I don’t think that’s what the majority of People complaining about the new series are concerned with. I don’t have a problem with diversity in casting but I do have reservations about how Amazon went about it. I’m going to break down where Amazon electrocuted itself.

Let’s start with Amazon Prime’s future. There is no doubt that amazon has been reading the tea leaves and is trying to get ahead of changing demographics. In a couple decades, white people will become the minority and black, Hispanic and Asian people will become the majority. It’s not as straightforward as that but you get the idea. So they are trying to capture that future market early. I get it. I approve. I just think they chose the wrong vehicle to do this in the manner in which they did it.

The thing about The Lord of the Rings that made it so wildly popular is that we could all see ourselves as hobbits. They were pretty much sexless, genderless beings who didn’t really exist but had amazing goodness and bravery in a pint size package. Tolkien is often criticized for lack of female characters in his books. With his hobbits, you didn’t have to be male or female to enjoy the journey. They were Everyman. Anyway, some of Tolkien’s BEST characters are women. He doesn’t write shrinking violet character arcs with his female characters. If you read the Silmarillion or any of his lengthy appendices, you know exactly what I mean. And yet, there’s something about hobbits that make them very relatable to the Tolkienistas out there. They didn’t need a makeover.

However, Amazon Prime is wandering into a liminal space between the Silmarillion and the Lord of the Rings. There is very little we know about the Rings of Power second age. The stories are there but they aren’t fleshed out. In particular, there aren’t any hobbits. I see that Amazon has created a couple of hobbit ancestors but they aren’t integral to the story at this point. So they were faced with the decision as to how you make this story relatable to a new audience. How do you get new viewers to find their orientation in this story. Fine.

Their answer is to create characters that are played by black and Hispanic actors. And you know, I don’t think Tolkien would have had a problem with that if he had been consulted. He created different races of characters with specific physical characteristics. Skin color wasn’t mentioned for most of them except the Vanyar who are very fair of skin. Fortunately for amazon, the Vanyar don’t get mentioned a whole lot in any of his legendarium except to explain why Galadriel had an amazing set of golden and silver tresses. Like, her hair was so gorgeous that people lusted after it. And here is where Amazon gets it sooooo wrong.

You can have white elves, black elves, Hispanic elves, pink with purple polka dot elves. Skin color doesn’t really matter too much except for a few major characters. But what you CAN’T have is an ordinary looking elf. Elves are specifically described as being the most beautiful among the children of Iluvatar. They are suppose to be tall and gorgeous. The ones that spent time in Valinor during the age of the trees are supposed to have a radiance about them. Peter Jackson was able to translate this to screen very effectively. Just look at how we meet Galadriel and Celeborn. These are stunning creatures.

There is no reason why Amazon couldn’t have glammed up their black elf. I mean, do we seriously think Cate Blanchett glows like that or that her hair is like a swanky salon conditioner advertisement? Can you imagine how much money they spent on her wig? And yet, this is the definitive image of Galadriel we have. The new Rings of Power series has a new Galadriel played by Morfydd Clark. In every scene I’ve seen of her so far, her hair looks like a braided mess and at 5’3”, she is 5 inches shorter than Blanchett. I’m kind of pissed off about this. Sure, put her in armor, but I want to see long wavy hanks of hair emanating from her helmet like a NFL football player.

The black elf in the trailer is ok but Amazon did nothing to make him unearthly beautiful. His hair is short and practical, like some guy headed for a corporate office. Maybe it was the corporate office demographic they were trying to appeal to. I don’t have any issues with the black dwarf princess. There is some debate as to whether she had a beard. It looks to me like they didn’t want to make her look as unlovely as dwarves are described in the books. I’m ok with that.

But the black elves should make us weak in the knees with their amazing Grace, beauty and physicality. For instance, a black elf woman should probably look like Zendaya who is 5’10” and about as perfect a specimen as they come. This is the look they should have been going for.

Her features are very elvish, pointy ears excluded. Amazon could have done some wardrobe, makeup and hair enhancements to make their black elf a stunning character to look at but they chose not to. I think the question Tolkienistas should be asking is not why they chose to cast POC but why they didn’t stick to Tolkien’s vision of a race of characters who were so physically different than all of the other characters.

That’s what I think is at the heart of our issues with this series. It feels like the creators were so committed to carrying out the corporate demand for inclusion that they skipped over the details that would demonstrate that they understand the source material. And if they can deliver a short, plain Galadriel with a messy braid of pale blond hair and a black elf who looks like he’s on the way to the corporate gym for a workout before his critical afternoon meeting, what else did they get wrong??

That’s the concern. Amazon put their commitment to diversity ahead of staying faithful to Tolkien’s world. Amazon could have accommodated diversity more easily by actually reading the source material but it chose not to. It takes all the excitement out of watching the series. They could have exceeded Peter Jackson’s interpretation. But it looks like they prefer to just call the Tolkien fans racists.

Not a good look.

Here’s a suggestion for Amazon Prime. If you can’t stay faithful to the author’s vision, find a different author and series to work with. For example, Octavia Butler and N.K. Jemisin are women of color who wrote amazing fantasy and sci-fi series. Jemisin’s Fifth Season series would be so good to bring to Prime. You wouldn’t even have to bend yourself into a pretzel to diversify the cast. It’s already baked in. These characters even have sex and adding a gay character would be easy. The world building is extensive and the plot has a mystery at the core that is very intriguing. I’m sure that Jemisin’s fan base would be thrilled. *I’d* watch that series if Prime threw a billion dollars at it, and hired the best directors, writers and production companies as money like that could buy.

But Amazon chose not to do this. Instead, it wants to co-opt the Tolkien fan base and offer them salad because it is nutritious when the books clearly call for ambrosia. This is why the fans are angry. And setting up Tolkien “Influencers” (what the {}%k is that??) to tell us all why they are so excited to eat salad and how veganism is delicious and people who like dessert are bad, is going to backfire.

They should have seen it coming.

Clean News

The Washington Post posted warnings and suggestions about how to avoid spreading misinformation about Ukraine and what news is considered trustworthy. They’re pretty good. Of course, if you think that WaPo is fake news to begin with, this post may not be for you.

One of my strategies is to never rely on one source, to read up on history, and to pay attention to foreign sources. I listen to podcasts, I listen to news in audio format, I check Twitter, I check the news services like Reuters and foreign news outlets like the BBC. Even German and French sites can be translated. (Kudos to Le Figaro for turning Putin into Poutine) The truth, the clean news, will start to coalesce around a few key points.

I also try to stay away from video sources and images in general. That’s because they can be emotional triggers and when serious news is happening, letting your emotional buttons get pushed could lead to responding to misleading or dangerous information. Stay on top of stuff in as clear headed a manner as possible.

With that in mind, here is a Twitter thread from the BBC that gives background information on the current situation in Ukraine. The news is coalescing around this history and Putin’s motivations:

Might vs Right could get us all killed.

We should all be discussing the historic nomination of Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court but the news is being dominated by Putin’s outrageous attack on Ukraine.

You know what’s more outrageous? The right’s stupid and childish finger pointing at Biden for not making Putin stop right this minute. They stomp their feet and shake their tiny fists and demand that Biden…

…impose tougher sanctions right away. And send more weapons. And they call NATO useless. Yeah, that’ll learn Putin!

It is at this point that I want to administer dope slaps to the heads of every one of them and remind them that their bloated orange hero was IMPEACHED because he tried to extort Ukraine into helping his campaign by threatening to withhold badly needed weapons to them a couple of years ago.

Remember that perfect phone call? I’ll bet none of you actually read the transcript. So here it is. The intention was very clear. Big Orange was deliberately delaying the Congressionally approved budgeted funds for the sale of weapons to Ukraine in 2019 in exchange for defamatory dirt on Hunter Biden. There are emails from people who were supposed to spend that money on weapons to Ukraine who were stopped from doing it. It was a very big deal because if the money wasn’t spent in time, it would have to be sent back to the Treasury and Ukraine wouldn’t get their weapons. As I recall, they didn’t get all of the funds allocated. Only a fraction of that money was used to buy weapons for Ukraine.

Here is the Politico article about it. It’s titled, “Trump holds up Military Aid to Ukraine meant to confront Russia”. It’s from 2019.

I repeat, since it didn’t sink in the first time when you guys were worried about transsexuals using the bathroom or the new wardrobe changes of candy coated chocolate avatars:

Former twice impeached president Trump pulled his ambassador from Ukraine when she was not helping him get manufactured dirt on Hunter Biden and he held up the sale of badly needed weapons to Ukraine until President Zelensky (you know, the guy who Putin is going to arrest and possibly execute any second now?) cooperated with his plan to bring down Biden with made up documents on Hunter Biden.

By the way, have any of you bothered to find out where Ukraine is located? It’s right next door to Russia. Nevermind. Here’s a map;

Putin could have marched right in whenever he felt like it. He’s got a bigger army, nukes and Ukraine wasn’t yet a member of NATO. You remember NATO, right? The big military alliance that keeps Western Europe safe from the Russians? The thing that Annoying Orange was always mocking, threatening to defund and wanted the US to leave? Yeah. That’s the NATO we’re talking about.

Oh, but now your mouthpieces like Hugh Hewitt are shocked, SHOCKED that Joe Biden isn’t doing something other than slow moving sanctions. Oh my god! Doesn’t Joe see that Ukraine needs weapons??

Yeah, probably. He probably recognized the problem right away. If only Annoying Orange had conceded back in November 2020 when he lost the election and had cooperated with the smooth transition of power instead of giving Vladimir Putin more lead time to get his ducks in a row.

He probably also knows that the US getting directly involved in conflict in Ukraine could get us all killed with that whole nuclear mutual destruction thing. Remember duck and cover drills? Good times, good times. We are very lucky that we don’t have a raging hothead in the Oval Office with access to the nuclear football and an attitude of why do we have nukes if we aren’t going to use them? He probably had a fantasy in his head where he vanquishes Russia and proclaims himself King of the World. It’s a dog eat dog world out there.

It is time for Republicans to grow up and pay attention. Pissing fellow Americans off is a distraction and not behavior worthy of a superpower. Putin took advantage of it. Congratulations. Now STFU.

Fitness: By the Dawn’s Early Light

Yep, I was down at the gym before dawn, which, I admit, sounds nuts. Hear me out. I was watching a TikTok channel on WFH corporate life. It’s hilarious. And also uncomfortably true.

I used to get up at about 5:30am every morning, got ready for work, and packed my lunch before I drove to the bus station. Then I walked from the drop off point in down town Pittsburgh, walked to the nearest Crazy Mocha for a large skim latte, and strutted down Grant St. to my office with AC/DC blasting away in my ears. Arrived at my desk at 7:30am. Reverse process on way home.

I don’t do that anymore. Now, I keep hitting the snooze button and get up at 7 so I can brave the harrowing commute down the hallway. The pandemic has thrown my lark-ish nature all to hell. I fall asleep when it gets dark, then I’m up at 2:30am for a couple of hours looking for a podcast boring enough to put me back to sleep.

So, this morning, I forced myself out of bed and went to the gym for two miles on the treadmill. By the way, when this gym membership expires, I’m buying a #%^ing treadmill. I’m going to try this morning exercise thing for a few weeks and see how it goes.

Anyway, I don’t want to discourage anyone from watching the news today. Ukraine is nerve wracking. Biden is going to end black history month with something historic, I think. Just don’t sit in one place all afternoon if you can help it. Get up and move around. Go for a short walk around the block, unless you’re in Pittsburgh where the weather is going to be… well… Pittsburgh. All day.

On my playlist this morning:

Remember these guys? I think they were popular about the time we last got this close to midnight on the Doomsday Clock. Nice warm up song.

Here’s a song from Wizard Women of the North called Fønix. Compared to how I felt at this time last year after my surgery when I questioned my sanity for having it, I feel a billion times better this year. Thank you to all of you who helped me through the last year, especially William who writes so well.

American Patriots Support Ukrainian Democracy

Ukraine broke away from Russia, voted out Russia’s puppet government and dictator, and elected new leaders via a democratic process.

Its story is not that different than ours. Ukrainians have a right to self-determination.

Yes, there will be pain if we stand against Putin’s naked aggression. We will feel it too. Put the blame for that on Putin, and anyone who treated him as a friendly ally and applauds his actions.

Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is easy for him. Russia is a country with a lot of military power. Governing for him will also be easy. He’ll overthrow the government and crack down on resistance. He has the power to do that. He’ll install a bunch of his oligarchs to take whatever they want as long as he gets a cut. And there won’t be any way for Ukrainians to vote the occupying forces out.

But Russian authoritarianism has been toppled before and it will be again. And when it does, I hope it takes down the Putin wannabes in Congress and state legislatures and their insanely rich patrons who signed on to the importation of Russian authoritarianism and are very impatient about all this democracy stuff.

If Putin goes down, so will they.

Part of the plan

Let’s take a look at how the #3 position for the Republicans in the House is framing the invasion of Ukraine by Russia:

Lordy, if Biden is unfit to serve as CiC, how do we rank TFG??

For Republicans like Stefanik, who has carefully studied the triggers and talking points for the Republican base, it’s all about weakness. There’s nothing the Republican base seems to fear more than to be thought of as weak and emasculated. Where did they get the idea that their manhoods are being threatened? Oh, Yeah. TFG. He’s always going on and on about how the rest of the world is laughing at us and white men somehow need protection of their way of life or some such nonsense about their tender snowflakyian emotional state. TFG played on the one thing these guys thought they had going for them and then gaslighted them into thinking they’re about to be castrated. Then he offered himself as a solution to all of that and they ate it up.

Now that’s salesmanship.

We don’t have any idea what TFG set up while he was still in the White House. By the way, does anyone remember that working group on cybersecurity that TFG set up with Vlad in 2018? Let me refresh your memory:

The two superpower leaders discussed a slew of topics, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters after talks ended, but one outcome has drawn particularly sharp criticism from observers: the development of a joint US-Russia coalition tasked with combatting cyber threats and boosting cybersecurity.

“Putin & I discussed forming an impenetrable Cyber Security unit so that election hacking, & many other negative things, will be guarded and safe,” Trump tweeted on Sunday. 

When describing the meeting to reporters on Friday, Tillerson said Trump and Putin had “acknowledged the challenges of cyber threats” and “agreed to explore creating a framework” so the two countries can cooperate to “better understand how to deal with these threats.”

I’ll give you a moment to stop laughing and catch your breath.

Adam Schiff commented that a US-Russia Cybersecurity working group “would be akin to inviting the North Koreans to participate in a commission on non-proliferation — it tacitly adopts the fiction that the Russians are a constructive partner on the subject instead of the worst actor on the world stage.”

If I’m not mistaken, the Russians did take a meeting with the FBI in 2017 focusing on cybersecurity. Something tells me it was related to ongoing investigations that happened before the 2016 election. But I can’t find the reference. I remember thinking that it was odd at the time since the Obama admin was out, TFG was in, and I’m not sure if the Russians got a stern talking to or our super secret passwords.

Whelp, I guess we’re about to find out! We sure do live in exciting times.

But it’s silly to accuse Biden of looking weak in this circumstance. Putin has always had the power to invade Ukraine. Russia shares a border, it’s bigger, has nastier weapons, and Putin seems to like provocative demonstrations of manliness. He *could* have done it when TFG was in office but that would have been a stupid move because TFG was just itching to drop some nukes. I mean, what are we saving them for?

Vlad might be a macho dude but he doesn’t strike me as having testosterone poisoning to the point where he’d allow some personality disordered man-toddler solve global warming with a nuclear winter.

Let’s stop the dick waving, shall we?

Truth Social. Just Sayin’

BFF alerted me that Trump was launching Truth Social this weekend. It’s in the iPhone App Store.

Not sure what they were thinking. iPhone users are coastal elites. We’re the last people who would want to download any Trump related app on our phones. (I’m not saying ALL android users would want it. I’m saying there are more android users who will want it.)

Anyway. It doesn’t work. They plan to have it completely operational by the end of March. Right now, you get put on a waiting list to get an account after you sign up. I might be conspiratorial here but what are the chances that a prospective account holder gets a quick background check to make sure they’re not Democrats or socialists or commies? (Note that these are separate affiliations. I know, but this distinction tends to go right over some peoples’ heads.)

Doesn’t apple have standards for what goes in the App Store? How much do you want to bet that it will eventually have “in app purchases”? Let’s say that the account waiting list thing is not a screening feature, does it make sense to allow an app creator to do end to end user acceptance testing during product launch? Have they addressed all the vulnerabilities out there? Do they request access to your location data? I only ask.

Here’s the thing about Truth Social that creeps me out. The entities that use the “truth” thing to death are high control religious groups. Like the Mormons (sorry, LDS. 🙄). And Jehovah’s Witnesses. To belong to those churches, you not only have to believe in 6 impossible things before breakfast, you spend most of your time validating your belief in the “truth” with other followers. “I know the church is true and here is my testimony.” Or just watch the “sisters” and “brothers” clump together during the (all too short) break between meetings on Sunday, talking about where they were when they discovered “the truth”. They never ever get tired of talking about it. It’s more important to them that the actual “truth”.

Funny, if they really listened to each other, they might figure out the pattern of actions and behaviors that got them roped into the “truth” in the first place but their introspection and analysis never gets that far. Does the “truth” truncate your ability to figure this out or do the “truth” bequeathers seek out people who are the least likely to question them?

I think it’s because they know that they are being asked to believe impossible things and they are constantly seeking validation for their commitment to believe impossible things that they ask each other over and over again to describe their conversions. These church followers are so focused on evangelism because they won’t feel completely validated if there are still people out there that can challenge the “truth” and don’t have their own conversion story.

The truthfulness of the “truth” doesn’t matter. What matters is that they stay in their bubble and don’t let outsiders mess with their heads by challenging their worldview. It makes them feel anxious. Like maybe they’ve been in the club too long and outsiders make them start to realize how ridiculous they sound.

Maybe they need to keep just enough MAGA heads in the bubble just long enough. Giving them Truth Social allows them to discuss their conversion stories and keep distrust of outsiders at a fever pitch.

Lol! I just looked at the description for Truth Social. What it looks like is a misinformation site that takes the user down a rabbit hole created by the most experienced conspiracy theorists, propagandists and psyops specialists. Once they have your profile, the “truth” will be meticulously tailored to your most disturbing shadow. It’s going to have all the misinformation talking points and buzz words without the charm of the Facebook user interface. Does apple have a misinformation policy? Hmmm. We’re about to find out.

If I were Trump, I wouldn’t have gone with the apple App Store to launch this. Sure, apple wants to make a buck like anyone else and once you decide to get into the apple universe of products, you’re kind of hooked for life. It’s another sort of high control group that just happens to feature the sleekest, highest quality, most enviable high tech toys out there and we all stand around talking about the first time we ever used a mouse or saw our first flying toaster screen saver. It’s not like we don’t know what we’re doing. We can quit whenever we want to. We just don’t want to. (I’m still available to do product endorsements in exchange for a new MacBook Pro for me to review. My old MacBook Pro is 11 years old. 😢 Call me.)

It’s just that we are the least likely audience for a location tracking, access seeking, buggy app that’s going to want credit card information (you know it’s coming) in order to unlock the super secret “truth” when we can get all the “truth” conspiracy theories we can eat from QAnon for free! Emphasis on “con”. It would be like hanging a Christmas tree air freshener on the rear view mirror of a Tesla.

And we apple nerds are unlikely to do that. But the minute one of us manages to get in, queue the app reviews. They’re going to be worth the price of a new iPhone 13.

Revenge of the Words

The Wordle enthusiasm (I would not deign to call it a craze) is fascinating, as it shines a light on something which understandably does not get much coverage, since it is about the declining vocabularies of Americans. ( I don’t know how it is in the rest of the world, but I would guess fairly similar).

Yesterday’s Wordle word (they have a new one every day, so unless one has been saving them up, it does not seem wrong to mention them the day after, so here it comes), was “tacit.”

Now, I am guessing that almost everyone who visits here knows that word. And if you did not, I am glad that you made the effort to play the game, and thus learn new words. That is always a plus for a person, wanting to learn new things. And I am not saying that I know all the English words, either, though I think I know most of them. I didn’t strive to do this, I just loved to read, and so learned many words, and I was always excited to find a new one.

I loved to read books, and read at a very young age. I wasn’t John Stuart Mill, who apparently learned Greek and Latin at age six or so. I just read Uncle Wiggily books, and Burgess animal stories, and Winnie-the-Pooh; and then adventure stories like “Treasure Island,” and “The Three Musketeers.”

My mother would read to me when I was very young, and I had many Golden Books, wonderful for young children. I particularly liked “The Color Kittens,” and “The Party Pig.” Then my father read the great adventure tales to me, “Treasure Island,” my very favorite; and “Kidnapped,” and “Robinson Crusoe,” and “The Jungle Book.” Then I read good sports novels, and mysteries; and then started reading some classic novels. Oh, and I had a good book of Greek mythology to ponder over. Then I majored in English in college, and strongly considered getting a PhD in English, but ultimately did other graduate work instead, but literature was always my favorite academic subject.

I am sure that most here followed a similar path, with the love of books, and of course the words in them. Books are made up of words, of course. Words are the primary way in which humans communicate, though of course there are nonverbal ways, such as facial expressions, loud noises, physical actions or inactions.

The importance of having a good vocabulary is twofold: the ability to express yourself with some depth and nuance, and the capacity to understand the nuance in the statements of other people you literally encounter, or just through the pages of books. The more words you know, the more potential nuance you can explore.

Obviously, there are those people, we might call them sesquipedalians, who delight in using long words to show off, or sound very intelligent. I like the French term “le mot juste,” literally meaning “the right word,” the word that just fits the precise meaning one is trying to convey. I just read that the term was coined by the novelist Flaubert, who would sometimes spend weeks searching for just the right word or phrase to use. Would that more aspired to that!

So some indeed might overdo it. And people who do not have very large vocabularies might resent those whom they think are trying to outshine them. I remember a high school English teacher, who apparently thought that I was doing that; as he all of sudden made a comment about once knowing someone who would use “twenty dollar words” when a “two dollar word” would be fine. Well, I never tried to show off in that way in school, I just used the words that I thought best expressed what I wanted to say. And I did not know very many arcane words, I just used those that I read in books, or that I learned from talking to my parents. But obviously his comment stung me, and it was entirely inappropriate coming from an English teacher. Oh, well.

I do remember always asking my mother, if she were sitting outside with me, what a new word meant. And like many mothers and fathers, she would usually say, “look it up.” But that would mean that I would have to get off the comfortable lounge chair where I was reading; go inside, get the dictionary down from the bookcase; find the word, read the definition, and then go back outside! So while I did it sometimes, I would often just try to figure it out by context, and then did that instead of asking. I think that my father was somewhat more amenable to explaining a word, but he was usually inside doing his artwork, so there were less opportunities to ask him.

I do remember once having difficulty, not with a word, but what I later learned was a dramatic figure of speech. I was reading a book where various writers recounted a dramatic event in baseball. Most were exciting and inspiring stories; but one wrote about the great pitcher Christy Mathewson, “Big Six,” Ivy League educated, and a hero to so many people. Mathewson had gone to fight in World War I, and was poisoned by gas, which the Germans were using in contravention of the war protocols. He did return home, but was never the same, and he tragically died young.

The writer saw him pitch after his return, and not do well; and he described the once untouchable pitcher being hammered; and one of the balls being whacked against the fence at the Polo Grounds. And he wrote, “But the ball wasn’t rolling against the fence, it was in my gullet.”

And oh, how I struggled to understand that sentence. How could the ball be in the writer’s gullet? I asked my mother, and I think she tried to explain somewhat, but I was still confused; and I think it was quite a while after, that I finally understood, that the writer was so upset at seeing his idol now be a shadow of his once great athletic self, that he felt a lump in his throat, akin to the ball being there. What a wonderful turn of phrase.

So where was I? Oh, yes, the value of a strong vocabulary, and the ability to try to express a thought or feeling with as much accuracy and emotion as one could. So it is not about “showing off,” or “looking for twenty dollar words,” it is wanting to be able to express oneself as well as one can. And to do that, you need to know a lot of words, and use them appropriately.

I have always liked word games, though I don’t do them too often. So here comes Wordle, and it is fun to play, though I have strong objections to the New York Times expurgating some words because they decide that they might offend people. And we have discussed that, as we should! But since the game is currently so popular, all the social media which was not present when I was going to school, has become a place for literally millions of people to add their comments, which unfortunately, at least for me, are usually about how hard they think the game has become.

I sometimes look to see if there is an article about the wordle of the day, but only after I have played. I have never looked at any article where someone tries to give advice as to what words to start with, though I certainly enjoy reading the comments here, and I don’t mind learning things, but I want to do as well as I can do on my own, because it is a source of pride for me, as I am sure it is for everyone else who solves one of them, and it should be. We may not be able to do feats on ice or on the track or in the pool, but we can be proud of our ability to use the language, and think of word combinations, and know many words. Not that we gain the fame and applause that the athletes get, but it is still nice to tell a few people, at least.

So there have apparently been a lot of complaints about “how hard the Wordle is getting.” I have not seen that to be so, I just regret the taking away of useful words to try, because of some sanctimonious efforts at the NYT to not allow anyone to guess a word, even just for a clue, that they deem inappropriate, or upsetting, or esoteric or archaic. Bah.

Well, recently the word was “caulk,” and there was a good deal of complaining, people saying they had never heard of the word. Maybe it is a generational thing, but I thought that it was a pretty common word, people still caulk their tubs and tile floors. Then there was “swill,” which seems to me to be very much in use. Anyone who has read any books which take place on a farm, or about ship voyages, would know that word, but I guess some have not, because there were many complaints.

And then yesterday, the word was “tacit.” Now surely anyone who reads or has read newspapers, or watches the news, or has read at least a few books, should know that word. It is pretty commonly used, whether in politics or even sports. But here is what an article on Yahoo said; “‘Who uses this word?!’ Players in uproar over Wordle 246.”

“Another day, another Wordle that has befuddled players and stirred up frustration over the viral word game. Twitter users took to the platform in droves again to express their outrage at the puzzle…”

“The past week has seen some players complain that ‘the game is getting too hard to play,’ with some theorizing that the NYT purposely chooses the most difficult five-letter words to challenge them. Today’s Wordle 246 result left many frustrated, and wondering it it was a real or even commonly used word.”…

“However, a number of people said that they had never heard the word ‘tacit’ before or did not know what it meant. Others were thrown off by the use of a double letter word again.”

One person who got it on the sixth try, wrote “This was a complete guess. WTF is that word?” Another wrote in capital letters “Who uses this word?!” Another said that they had to “search up words to find this, because it was so confusing.”

I will say that there was a spike in searches for the meaning of the word “tacit,” which could be good, but most likely it will stop there, and they will never use it.

Now, I could respond to all of this in various ways. I could be generous, and nice, and say that it is great that so many people are playing a word game, and sharing their experiences, and maybe learning some new words, and that this is something to be applauded.

Or I could be acerbic and maybe condescending, and say that tacit is not an arcane word, it is used in many areas, particularly law, and national and world politics. It simply refers to a commitment or agreement to something without expressing definitive verbal approval. It is not something that one has to have an advanced degree or even a college education to understand its meaning. It is not used as commonly as “kinda” or “sorta,” but it is much more elegant, and expressive of its meaning. So maybe people should actually read some books, or some essays, and learn some new words, because this would help them to not only communicate, but think, with more nuance and precision and depth.

I could say that, but that might be ungenerous or sarcastic. The thing is that people get by, in many cases quite well, without knowing too many words. That is fine; many uneducated people live productive lives, and some make a lot of money. But the problem we have as a society is that our discourse is being atrophied and degraded, because there is an decreasing number of words and phrases which people are capable of using to describe or understand a situation which is more complex than the average.

You want to know whether your manager allows you to take some extra time past your lunch hour. You think he has. Another person challenges you and demands to see it in writing. You might say, “He never wrote it down, but I asked him about it once, and he didn’t say that he objected; and he has not said anything when I have, and he has praised my work, so he has given his tacit consent.” You might not even say all of the first part, just “he has given his tacit consent.” Actually, in various informal or even formal hearings, in an office, or in court, the concept of “tacit consent” can be significant.

So it is a word that can be useful to know and comprehend. The more of these words and concepts that one understands, the more able one can be to explain a position or action. It does not mean that you will always come out ahead, or be right, but you will have a greater understanding and ability to grasp what is going on. And if you read somewhere that a government or political figure is said to have given their tacit approval to a course of action, you will know what that means.

This is what more people should want to do, rather than complaining about words that they don’t know or think they have never seen. And though the Wordle game and comments are in good humor, there seems to be a bit of defensive pride from people who don’t know the words when they see the answers. Almost a sort of anti-intellectualism. “I don’t know that word, why should I? Cut down the list of words, let’s have ones like bread, and store, and great. Get rid of those other ones, I can’t be bothered with them.”

Unfortunately, no one is an island. And if the society you live in is being dumbed down, and if vocabularies are decreasing, what you know would have even less power to affect or change someone else’s opinion, because they don’t have the figurative or literal vocabulary to engage in the discussion. In that sense, the social chain may be no stronger than its weakest links, if there are multitudes of them. At least that is my thought of the day. 🙂

Very Brief Thoughts on the Eve of Conflict

Putin’s goals, in whatever order one may focus on:

1. Take over Ukraine, remove the government, and install a pro-Putin regime.

2. Pull apart NATO. Try to make private deals with France and Germany, where Russian oil is promised to continue to flow.

3. Try to severely damage Biden, at the least help Republicans to win big in the elections, and put in more pro-Russian types;. e.g., JD Vance who said he didn’t have any interest in what happens to Ukraine.

4. Rely on pro-Putin organizations such as Fox, which daily repeats Russian arguments, and wherever Glenn Greenwald is putting out his anti-American rhetoric now.

5. Do not lose, because Putin never loses, in is perceptions and statements. In some way, he is absolutely determined to turn all of this into a victory, which is unsettling, at the very least.

Biden’s goals:

1. Do everything possible to sanction and hurt Russia because of this invasion, but without somehow escalating into a World War.

2. Keep the NATO countries in a unified front, even as Macron seems to want to go his own way, and Germany is lukewarm.

3. Take the best advice from a staff which certainly seems to be very capable at this early stage in the conflict. Have the ability to discern which of your advisors are the most perceptive, though you certainly hope that all of them are.

4. Still somehow get things done in this country, and keep this war from engulfing your administration so that you cannot work on domestic policy, which of course is one of the aims of Russia and the Republicans.

5. Look like, and be, the kind of leader who will gain respect from a majority of the populace during this tense period. Speak forcefully against the Radical Far Right elements in our country, particularly in Congress and the media, plus the Russian cheerleader Donald Trump, and do not let them try to misrepresent the reality of what is going on. They will attack you as a warmonger, and blame you for starting the war, which is of course absolutely false, but that never stopped them from lying before, it is their nature. Fox will go after you every night, mock you, call you incompetent, and try to get people to march and riot against you. You have to surmount all of that, and keep the economy going, because one of the chief reasons this is happening now, is Russia’s determination to wreck the U.S. economy.

6. Try to somehow end up with an outcome which salvages some worthwhile things, including a strong alliance among most of the major nations. If you do almost all of the right things, but the end result is Russia controlling Ukraine, and your popularity negative, so that Republicans take over, you have failed, even if it was in no way your direct fault. Put another way, you have to emerge ahead, not just in terms of decency and such abstract things, but politically as well. Noble intentions and honorable actions take one only so far in the sweep of history. You have to be pragmatic and strategic as well. Would that you had a Churchill to work with you, or even a Merkel, but you do not appear to, so it is mostly up to you, as difficult as that is. You might want to give Bill and Hillary Clinton a call, if your pride will allow it.

Why Are All The Vaccine and Mask Mandates Ending?

I live in Los Angeles, where there are still indoor mask mandates, though I doubt that they will remain for very long. The rest of the state, except for L.A., and one other county, has ended them. Why? I would say that it is because of the unending pressure and threats from various forces which include anti-vax idiots, right-wing insurrectionists, and shadowy foreign groups, mostly run from Russia, which were found to be behind the so-called “truckers protest” in Canada.

That event shut down traffic, including on an important bridge where goods flow to and from the United States. These people honked their horns for hours, making it virtually impossible for people to work in adjacent businesses. It was estimated that the cost to revenue was an astounding $300 million dollars a day. The effects will still be felt, and there will also be damage to the American economy.

And that, along with generalized chaos, was surely the goal. Canada has a 90% vaccination rate. There scarcely would be imagined that there were actually all these Canadians who were angrily protesting vaccine mandates for businesses. This was something else, both an effort to damage Trudeau and Biden, and the two countries, but a test run for more such events.

I have not done all the research, but various “troll farms” in other countries have been found to be part of this. It is assumed that Russia is behind much of it, in their ongoing efforts to damage and destabilize the United States. And people like Steve Bannon, who is an ally of theirs, are also probably involved. There was some indication that there were plans to disrupt the Super Bowl, but nothing came of that. But we can expect more phony and dangerous “organic protests” which not only cause property and financial damage, but help them to try to oust leaders whom they want to get rid of.

And there are also of course various right-wing cult elements, including those whom Trump has mobilized to express their anger through violent actions. And then the real powers, the immensely rich people who have no compunction about doing anything to get their way, which is defined as no impediments to business making trillions of dollars.

Obviously, vaccine and mask mandates interfere with that. So do airlines trying to ban passengers who endanger the crew and the other passengers, by attacking them. When we see eight Republican senators arguing that it is wrong for the airlines to ban them, we can be certain that this is not coming from their own mentalities, such as they are; it is being told to them by their owners, who are the immensely rich people who fund them, get them re-elected, and give them their talking points.

These people have gone beyond their paying hundreds of millions of dollars to have their people elected, and the Supreme Court stacked with them. They want to control every element of national policy. And that includes getting rid of all of the health mandates.

It seems that many leading medical people do not believe that the mandates should be lifted, not until we get a higher vaccination rate, and more information about the infection rates. We all very much wish that the pandemic were over, but it doesn’t seem that it is. Yet suddenly we see virtually every state and municipality ending the mandates. It is very unsettling, because it seems to me that this is a caving under intense pressure, rather than something that medical professionals are in favor of. I have seen many comments from them which either are against the end of mandates, or at least concerned about it.

Yet, they are ending. And we are seeing such nonsensical things as the rules for the upcoming Academy Awards, which appear to be an effort to “compromise,” assuage various people, to act like they are trying to be safe, but not do anything effectual. Apparently some audience members should wear masks, but the presenters and performers do not have to. The audience members seated in the section of the Dolby Theatre nearest the stage will not be required to wear masks, but they will be seated further apart than usual. The audience seated in the mezzanine must wear masks. And the theatre is in Los Angeles, where the indoor mask mandate is supposed to remain, but somehow is being worked around for this event.

Meanwhile, many people are not following the mask mandates, and they were not three months ago. I have never yet seen any authority figure in an indoor space tell anyone to wear a mask. Many do responsibly wear them, but some don’t. And now all the mandates will end, and have in most cities; and I think it is simply due to the nonstop pressure, complaining, yelling, ignoring, that goes on, as well as less publicized threats being instigated by the ultra-rich corporate people.

Remember the furor over California governor Gavin Newsom being seen eating without a mask at a restaurant? This was made into a major scandal by those who wanted to have him removed via Recall, so they could put in Far Right talk show host Larry Elder. Recently they tried to concoct another such scandal with Newsom, and with Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti, but they both quickly explained that they took off their mask only very briefly.

But the question is who keeps trying to turn these things into scandals, and the answer is that it is those people who now are convinced that the country is theirs, and that they have the money and the power to get anything they want. What they want most of all is absolutely no restrictions on any aspect of business and corporations. Trump was on his way to giving them that, and they want him back, although they would settle for DeSantis, who essentially is Trump without the weirdness.

I do not like wearing a mask, who would? But I will continue to wear them, maybe for another year, unless I read that virtually all of the most respected epidemiologists believe that it is perfectly safe not to wear them. Right now, I do not see that being the case. Hopefully, wearing a good mask will be enough, even if most people are not doing that.

I am also worried about another variant, which we all hope will not arise. It has been over four months since I had a booster shot, and in Israel, they found that after four months, the protection goes down, and they were recommending a fourth shot. Here, nothing yet has been done about it, but I think that Dr. Fauci predicted that it would be recommended for certain groups. But of course there is pressure being exerted against all of that, by the same forces I am writing about.

I think that many of us have been astounded and upset at the angry resistance to vaccinations and masks. The pathetic perversion of concepts of “freedom” into the right not to follow health protocols which are designed to protect not just them, but everyone else. I think that we have declined in national intelligence and rationality.

But I am also thinking that this this idiocy is not just millions of people deciding that “the freedom not to be vaccinated, or to have to wear masks indoors” is the most important thing in their lives. It is something that they are being led into by those on the outside who want America to fall apart and be engaged in civil war; and by powerful people on the inside who want to get rid of Biden, have Far Right Republicans control everything, and thus be free to buy up whatever part of the country and its lawmaking that they do not yet own. Looking at it from that overarching perspective, all of this comes into focus.