Why things are not effective in movies, and why that’s not a good thing

“Why do almost no films ever show civilization functioning well, institutions doing their jobs, democracy working? The answer is simple: laziness.

A storyteller’s job is to keep his or her characters in pulse-pounding jeopardy for 90 minutes of film, or 600 pages of a novel. It’s hard to do that if they can dial 911 and get skilled professionals to come to their aid. So you see a panoply of tricks used by directors and authors to deny their characters useful aid.  That’s fine, but when the trick is to simply spread the assumption that there are no decent civil servants, there are no smart cops, there are no loyal first responders out there, then that spreads a propaganda message that such things are impossible in our real world.

It takes real writing skill to come up with a way of keeping your characters in jeopardy, despite there being skilled professionals who want to help them…..” – David Brin – 2016

My answers to questions on Quora

If median voters theorem holds then parties in two party systems should pick positions close to a median voters ideal point. What historical or current evidence can you provide to support or contradict the claim of this hypothesis?

*****

The whole concept of finding a political “Golden Mean” is faulty if each ‘wing’ starts from a position with significant variances from the status quo. For example: assume 0 is the status quo centerline marker on a bar between -5 and +5. If the minus side starts from marker 4 while the plus side starts from 1, the result would not end up at 0.

This is the argument Democrats have repeatedly made regarding attempts at compromise with Republicans, where Dems say their position is close to citizens preferences; but the Republican position is far to the right, so if they “meet” halfway, then Republicans ‘win’ and Democrats ‘lose’.

JKR

The Single Mother’s Manifesto

J.K. Rowling: The Single Mother’s Manifesto

Writing about web page http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article7096786.ece

From The Times Online, April 15, 2010 – J.K. Rowling writes:

JKRI’ve never voted Tory before, but . . .” Those much parodied posters, with their photogenic subjects and their trite captions, remind me irresistibly of glossy greetings cards. Indeed, the more I think about it, the more general elections have in common with the birthdays of middle life. Both entail a lot of largely unwelcome fuss; both offer unrivalled opportunities for congratulation and spite, and you have seen so many go by that a lot of the excitement has worn off.

Nevertheless, they become more meaningful, more serious. Behind all the bombast and balloons there is the melancholy awareness of more time gone, the tally of ambitions achieved and of opportunities missed.

So here we are again, taking stock of where we are, and of where we would like to be, both as individuals and as a country. Personally, I keep having flashbacks to 1997, and not merely because of the most memorable election result in recent times. In January that year, I was a single parent with a four-year-old daughter, teaching part-time but living mainly on benefits, in a rented flat. Eleven months later, I was a published author who had secured a lucrative publishing deal in the US, and bought my first ever property: a three-bedroom house with a garden.

I had become a single mother when my first marriage split up in 1993. In one devastating stroke, I became a hate figure to a certain section of the press, and a bogeyman to the Tory Government. Peter Lilley, then Secretary of State at the DSS, had recently entertained the Conservative Party conference with a spoof Gilbert and Sullivan number, in which he decried “young ladies who get pregnant just to jump the housing list”. The Secretary of State for Wales, John Redwood, castigated single-parent families from St Mellons, Cardiff, as “one of the biggest social problems of our day”. (John Redwood has since divorced the mother of his children.) Women like me (for it is a curious fact that lone male parents are generally portrayed as heroes, whereas women left holding the baby are vilified) were, according to popular myth, a prime cause of social breakdown, and in it for all we could get: free money, state-funded accommodation, an easy life.

An easy life. Between 1993 and 1997 I did the job of two parents, qualified and then worked as a secondary school teacher, wrote one and a half novels and did the planning for a further five. For a while, I was clinically depressed. To be told, over and over again, that I was feckless, lazy — even immoral — did not help.

The new Labour landslide marked a cessation in government hostilities towards families like mine. The change in tone was very welcome, but substance is, of course, more important than style. Labour had great ambitions for eradicating child poverty and while it succeeded, initially, in reversing the downward trend that had continued uninterrupted under Tory rule, it has not reached its own targets. There remains much more to be done.

This is not to say that there have not been real innovations to help lone-parent families. First, childcare tax credits were introduced by Gordon Brown when he was Chancellor, which were a meaningful way of addressing the fact that the single biggest obstacle for lone parents returning to work was not innate slothfulness but the near-impossibility of affording adequate childcare.

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How To Make $71 Billion A Year: Tax the Churches

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While the desire to tax churches is not new, it seems as far from reality as possible at this moment. As has been commented, no atheist could possibly hope to win an election in today’s political climate—a freethinking man like Robert Ingersoll would have no influence with the majority of our electorate. Our cultural dependency on the necessity of faith is affecting our society: According to a University of Tampa study, not taxing churches is taking an estimated $71 billion from our economy every year, and this fact remains largely unquestioned.

The general argument over why churches do not pay taxes goes like this: If there is a separation of church and state, then the state (or fed) has no right to collect money from the church. In exchange, churches cannot use their clout to influence politics. While this would seem to make for cozy bedfellows, it’s impossible to believe that none of the 335,000 congregations in the United States are using their resources for political purposes, especially when just last week the Kansas governor called for a ‘Day of Salvation‘ in his state. 

Churches not paying property and federal income taxes (along with a host of others, including reduced rates on for-profit properties and parsonage subsidies) is filed into that part of our brain marked ‘always been.’ Never mind the conundrum that the most religious are often the most patriotic—what could be less patriotic than not paying your fair share for the good of the country, especially when church structures and those who work for them use the same public utilities as the rest of us? 

How to Inspire Action on Climate in the Age of Trump

Action on Climate in the Age of Trump

A Guide for Advocates

In the age of Trump, how do we advocate for climate action?

Climate Change Is Polarized. Clean Energy Is Not.

First, the bad news. Researchers have found there has been a small uptick in the number of Americans who understand that humans are driving climate change — but most of the gains have been made among Democrats. Republicans are actually less likely to accept climate science than they were 15 years ago. Thus, while public opinion in the aggregate is moving in the right direction, the issue has also become more polarized.

Jim Zarroli 2010

Vindictiveness personified

Patrons are reflected in a mirror as they eat at Trump Tower Grille at Trump Tower in New York. A critical Vanity Fair review preceded criticism of the magazine by the president-elect on Twitter.

* * * *

One day after Vanity Fair printed a highly critical piece about one of his restaurants, President-elect Donald Trump escalated his feud with the magazine’s editor, calling him a “no talent.”

“Has anyone looked at the really poor numbers of @VanityFair Magazine,” Trump said in an early-morning Tweet. “Way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!”

Has anyone looked at the really poor numbers of @VanityFair Magazine. Way down, big trouble, dead! Graydon Carter, no talent, will be out!

The tweet illustrates Trump’s ability to use his very visible platform as president-elect to lash back at critics of his businesses and underscores the conflicts of interest he will face in office.

Trump was originally supposed to hold a “major press conference” Thursday to reveal how he would address the conflicts of interest, but he decided to postpone it until next month. His staff said dealing with the issue involved complex legal issues and Trump needed time to iron out the details.

Although Trump didn’t refer to it directly in his tweet, Vanity Fair‘s website on Tuesday published a rough review of Trump Grill, located in the lobby of Trump Tower in Manhattan. The article, by politics and media writer Tina Nguyen, was headlined, “Trump Grill could be the worst restaurant in America.”

Nguyen lambasted the restaurant for its tacky decor and indifferent menu.

Among the foods served, she wrote, was a short-rib burger “molded into a sad little meat thing, sitting in the center of a massive, rapidly staling brioche bun, hiding its shame under a slice of melted orange cheese. It came with overcooked woody batons called ‘fries’—how can someone mess up fries?—and ketchup masquerading as Heinz. If the cheeseburger is a quintessential part of America’s identity, Trump’s pledge to ‘make America great again’ suddenly appeared not very promising.”

Interference in elections

One of the more alarming narratives of the 2016 U.S. election campaign is that of the Kremlin’s apparent meddling. Last week, the United States formally accused the Russian government of stealing and disclosing emails from the Democratic National Committee and the individual accounts of prominent Washington insiders.

The hacks, in part leaked by WikiLeaks, have led to loud declarations that Moscow is eager for the victory of Republican nominee Donald Trump, whose rhetoric has unsettled Washington’s traditional European alliesand even thrown the future of NATO — Russia’s bête noire — into doubt.

Leading Russian officials have balked at the Obama administration’s claim. In an interview with CNN on Wednesday, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov dismissed the suggestion of interference as “ridiculous,” though he said it was “flattering” that Washington would point the finger at Moscow. At a time of pronounced regional tensions in the Middle East and elsewhere, there’s no love lost between Kremlin officials and their American counterparts.

To be sure, there’s a much larger context behind today’s bluster. As my colleague Andrew Roth notes, whatever their government’s alleged actions in 2016, Russia’s leaders enjoy casting aspersions on the American democratic process. And, in recent years, they have also bristled at perceived U.S. meddling in the politics of countries on Russia’s borders, most notably in Ukraine.

While the days of its worst behavior are long behind it, the United States does have a well-documented history of interfering and sometimes interrupting the workings of democracies elsewhere. It has occupied and intervened militarily in a whole swath of countries in the Caribbean and Latin America and fomented coups against democratically elected populists.

The most infamous episodes include the ousting of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953— whose government was replaced by an authoritarian monarchy favorable to Washington — the removal and assassination of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba in 1961, and the violent toppling of socialist Chilean President Salvador Allende, whose government was swept aside in 1973 by a military coup led by the ruthless Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

Trump is laying the path for Democrats to reconsolidate the Blue Wall

Trump is laying the path for Democrats to reconsolidate the Blue Wall
 via Daily Kos by Egberto Willies
Sunday Dec 11, 2016 · 9:00 PM EST

Democrats lost a big chunk of the blue wall because they took many of the reliably Democratic states for granted. They did not do so by having policies inferior to those of the Republicans: they did so by allowing Donald Trump to define the policies he purported to support, letting him highlight past Democratic policies anathema to the working class, and by giving him the win in the domains of social media and electronic media.

Farewell America

No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently.

The sun sets behind the Jefferson Memorial in Washington. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

America died on Nov. 8, 2016, not with a bang or a whimper, but at its own hand via electoral suicide. We the people chose a man who has shredded our values, our morals, our compassion, our tolerance, our decency, our sense of common purpose, our very identity — all the things that, however tenuously, made a nation out of a country.

Whatever place we now live in is not the same place it was on Nov. 7. No matter how the rest of the world looked at us on Nov. 7, they will now look at us differently. We are likely to be a pariah country. And we are lost for it. As I surveyed the ruin of that country this gray Wednesday morning, I found weary consolation in W.H. Auden’s poem, September 1, 1939, which concludes:

“Defenseless under the night
Our world in stupor lies
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.”

I hunt for that affirming flame. This generally has been called the “hate election” because everyone professed to hate both candidates. It turned out to be the hate election because, and let’s not mince words, of the hatefulness of the electorate. In the years to come, we will brace for the violence, the anger, the racism, the misogyny, the xenophobia, the nativism, the white sense of grievance that will undoubtedly be unleashed now that we have destroyed the values that have bound us.

 We all knew these hatreds lurked under the thinnest veneer of civility. That civility finally is gone. In its absence, we may realize just how imperative that politesse was. It is the way we managed to coexist.

If there is a single sentence that characterizes the election, it is this: “He says the things I’m thinking.” That may be what is so terrifying. Who knew that so many tens of millions of white Americans were thinking unconscionable things about their fellow Americans? Who knew that tens of millions of white men felt so emasculated by women and challenged by minorities? Who knew that after years of seeming progress on race and gender, tens of millions of white Americans lived in seething resentment, waiting for a demagogue to arrive who would legitimize their worst selves and channel them into political power? Perhaps we had been living in a fool’s paradise. Now we aren’t.

This country has survived a civil war, two world wars and a Great Depression. There are many who say we will survive this, too. Maybe we will, but we won’t survive unscathed. We know too much about each other to heal. No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things. Nor can we pretend that democracy works and that elections have more-or-less happy endings. Democracy only functions when its participants abide by certain conventions, certain codes of conduct and a respect for the process.

No more can we pretend that we are exceptional or good or progressive or united. We are none of those things.
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