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When Headlines of News Stories Pose Questions, the Answer is Sometimes in Plain Sight

When a headline poses a question, it suggests that the article will shed light on a question the reader wants answered. But I’ve recently noticed a type of headline-question that answers itself. It’s the variation on the question: Is Donald Trump Nuts?

A case in point: “Is Trump making America mentally ill?” by Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post. I don’t need to read the story to know that the article’s answer is Yes. (If you don’t believe me, Parker writes: “Today, about a third of the nation’s population seems to be suffering from a reality discernment malfunction. Have they been ingesting mushrooms plucked from bull dung? Drinking water spiked with credulity-enhancing chemicals? Thus, when President Trump speaks in his fourth-grade, monosyllabic, syntax-challenged verbiage, they hear lyrical lucidity. When he brags that he has accomplished more than any other president, save for Franklin Delano Roosevelt, his starry-eyed minions nod their approval. Exactly no major legislation has been passed by Congress since Trump took office.”)

And some of the suggestions for further reading after Parker’s article are just as effective at communicating an answer. The first article suggested under the “Read More Here” banner is “Is Donald Trump just plain crazy?” (And the article’s answer is, of course, Yes. Or as the writer Eugene Robinson puts it: “During the primary season, as Donald Trump’s bizarre outbursts helped him crush the competition, I thought he was being crazy like a fox. Now I am increasingly convinced that he’s just plain crazy.”)

The second Read More article is Jennifer Rubin’s “When is it okay to say the president might be nuts?” This question doesn’t have a yes or no answer, but it nonetheless communicates the same message as the other articles–that yes, the president is nuts–otherwise there’d be no point in asking when it’s OK to say so.

Here’s a Photo of Real Life Time Travelers Seconds Before They Vanished into a Worm Hole!

These two guys climbed into what they thought was an ordinary cab on the corner of 104th Street and Broadway; it turned out to be a time machine, which took them to 1958. Fortunately, they found a clothing boutique with a farsighted clerk who didn’t notice that they paid for their outfits with bills from 2017. Unfortunately, when they thought no one was looking, they pulled out their smart phones in a foolhardy search for a wireless signal, but, in doing so, violated a fundamental law of time travel, which prevents the use of anachronistic technology. Nano-seconds after this photo was taken, these folks vanished into a worm hole, which took them to a time and place unknown.

Or maybe they were on the set this morning on the Upper West Side of Manhattan of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Just maybe.

Plaque about the History of Movie Making Offers Evidence that ‘Alternative Facts’ are Nothing New

I walked passed this plaque the other day. In fact, I’ve probably walked passed it many times over the years, but this time I noticed it.  Naturally, I thought “Wow! Really?” To think that the motion picture–one of the most influential forms of art and propaganda, that touches literally billions of people, that not only entertains but educates, that not only spreads truth but also lies, that has generated billions of dollars and driven people to suicide–in other words, something that does just about everything–started right here, right at this spot, at a place that once bore the charming and now ancient-sounding name of Koster and Bial’s Music Hall?

And then I Googled it. I’m not saying Googling is the be-all and end-all when it comes to fact checking; after all, the internet if full of fake news. And yet I found what I read here on a site called untapped cities under the headline “Lost and Incorrect Historical Plaques in NYC” persuasive:

“It may have been Edison’s first, but not where the motion picture began. The showing in 1896 was just the first showing of Edison Kinetoscope films on screen to a paying audience, not the first screening of a projection film which happened in Paris 1895, by the Lumiere Brothers. In fact, Edison only allowed this 1896 screening to happen after there were “wide-spread projections of the Kinestoscope films by unauthorized showmen,” reports Raymond Fielding in A Technological History of Motion Pictures and Television.

So apparently even plaques, which seem inherently honest in their fixity and stolid plainness, can be as slippery as a Sean Spicer press conference.

 

Advertising is Nothing New, as this Juxtaposition of an Amish Choir and Alien: Covenant Posters Makes Clear

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Often on Saturday, a choir (I think they might be Amish) sings in the busy Times Square subway station. They set up in front of a panel of back-lit ads that changes from week to week. On a recent Saturday, the juxtaposition of puritanically-styled singers next to a promo for the latest Alien flick seemed to carry a hidden message. The end is near? Ain’t life funny? What we define as ‘alien’ is only a matter of perspective?

In any event, it made me think that advertising isn’t a modern idea. Humans have always tried to sell each other stuff–whether it’s goods, or an experience (like a film), or a religion, or a political ideology.

What’s surprising is that you’d think the pretty sounds of a chorus — their voices are lovely, echoing through a station usually dominated with groaning, screeching trains — would attract far more people than a black-and-white image of an anonymous mouth contorted in a terrified scream. And yet I for one would rather watch Alien: Covenant than hear a sermon of any stripe. And I suppose the fact that in just a few weeks Alien: Covenant has earned over $100 million means that I’m not alone in that regard.

A Vision of the Future in 2 Headlines

It’s bad enough to read a headline like this one tonight in The New York Times: Trump’s Budget Has Sharp Cuts for E.P.A. and State Dept. The story previews Trump’s “budget blueprint for the coming fiscal year,” which would “slash the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent … in a brash upending of the government’s priorities.”

But when the same front page has this headline as well–Large Sections of Australia’s Great Reef Are Now Dead, Scientists Say–it’s hard not to despair. The second story explains that “huge sections of the Great Barrier Reef, stretching across hundreds of miles of its most pristine northern sector, were recently found to be dead, killed last year by overheated seawater.” If the words “overheated seawater” don’t make the underlying cause of the calamity clear, the article illuminates: “The state of coral reefs is a telling sign of the health of the seas. Their distress and death are yet another marker of the ravages of global climate change.”

So while the world suffers (and the Great Barrier Reef is just one of seemingly endless examples of the environmental disaster unfolding around us), our new president wants to cut funding to the lone agency responsible for monitoring and regulating greenhouse gases in the world’s second largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Surprisingly (given the rush to censor damning data), the EPA still has information about greenhouses gases on its website, including this chart. Perhaps because it indicts China as the world’s largest polluter it’s considered non-fake news, but if the EPA’s budget is slashed, it will only make it easier for the U.S. to catch up fast.

Congrats to Moonlight’s Cast and Creators for Advancing Art and Awareness

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I was lucky enough to attend the opening of Moonlight last October at the New York Film Festival. I remember reading the description of the film and thinking, “A movie about being black and gay? Sounds interesting.” And of course I was happy we bought the tickets because it turned out to be amazing.

I never posted the photos because I took them with my phone, which does a lousy job in low light. But in honor of Moonlight’s Oscar win, I thought I would celebrate by sharing them.

Congrats Barry Jenkins, Mahershala Ali, and the rest of the creators, cast and crew!

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All the News — Including Protests — that’s Fit to Print

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In the desire to protect American values — and rights — that are under direct fire (this week the vulnerable value is a free press — see this, this and this) a demonstration today started at The New York Times building and wended its way uptown to the studios of Fox News.

Protest signs might be the new street art, but my favorite signs at this gathering weren’t signs at all but the tape some people put over their mouths (although I also liked the “unpaid protester” sign, visible just above the hat of the woman with blue tape, below.)

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Protest is the new normal

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Jan 29 2017 Rally

It’s not surprising that “the most unpopular new president in modern times” is generating daily protests, including a vow to ensure rallies follow him wherever he goes. The remarkable thing is how many people show up at these rallies–three times as many showed in Washington for the Women’s March as attended his inauguration (and 2.5 million joined them around the world). Of course, numbers can always be questioned but with the president making such a big issue out of them, people seem to be more meticulous in their counting.

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These photos are from a protest and march on Jan 29, 2017 against Trump’s executive order banning refugees and travelers from seven Muslim-dominant countries. The march went from Battery Park to Foley Square. Media reported that about 10,000 attended but, as Trump would say, it looked like more than that to me.

The Plaza of Three Cultures (and Three Tragedies) in Mexico City

The Plaza of Three Cultures / Plaza de Tres Culturas is remarkable not only for the collision of past and present but the numerous tragedies that have occurred there, starting with Cortes’ massacre of the Aztecs followed hundreds of years later by the Army’s murder of hundreds of student protesters in 1968 and finally the 1985 earthquake.

We visited on Jan 5, a bright quiet day. There were only a few other tourists but the place was crowded with lessons and, no doubt, ghosts. An engraved sign commemorating Cuauhtemoc’s defense of Tlatelolco against Cortes takes a neutral position on the outcome: “Neither triumph nor defeat, it was the painful birth of the Mestizo nation that is the Mexico of today.”

Sense of Risk: A Trampoline in Mexico

 

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When I was a little kid in Illinois, I remember some neighbors had toy trampolines in their backyards. But by the time I was eight or 10, they had all disappeared, and I remember my mother telling me they’d been banned as toys because too many people were getting injured.

Although I can’t find any record via Google that a ban actually occurred in the 1970s, there’s plenty of information today regarding the risks of casual trampolining and the precautions people should take. That’s why it was both alarming and refreshing when I saw these folks setting up a big trampoline for kids to play on in Parque de España in Mexico City.

Of course, safety is crucial. Playgrounds should be safe spaces. And I’m not saying that trampolines without safety belts and mats are safe toys. But I sometimes get the feeling that the average American playground is too safe.

Does every swing and jungle gym need a mat under it? Isn’t it sometimes OK if a kid, while playing, gets a scrape or a bruise now and then?