Unplanned

The film Unplanned tells the story of Abby Johnson, erstwhile director of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Bryan, TX. It is based on her book of the same title. Ms. Johnson first joined Planned Parenthood as a volunteer when she was a student at Texas A&M in nearby College Station, TX. She eventually rose to become the director of the Bryan clinic. Her growing unease with Planned Parenthood’s policies and procedures culminates with her participation in an abortion with the aid of sonography. Visualization of the process finally pushes her over the edge and she quits, becoming an anti-abortion activist. She has previously told her story in speeches.

As expected this film as been controversial, leading Google to label the film as propaganda. The film is certainly polemical. Any film with a point of view could arguably be labeled as propaganda but that would mean almost everything coming out of Hollywood is propaganda. By applying the word this way it loses all meaning. Unplanned is reasonably balanced. People on both sides of the issue are generally portrayed as being well-intentioned rather than good or evil. The main exception is Ms. Johnson’s superior at Planned Parenthood, who is the film’s villain. Some of the anti-abortion activists are also depicted as being less than well-behaved.

I found the film both moving and disturbing. Though not especially squeamish, I had to look away on a couple of occasions. One cannot come away from viewing it without being affected. There have been complaints that the film is rated R but the rating is not unreasonable given the nature of the material. It would be inadvisable to take a child to see it. The film has a fair amount of reference to religious faith. From the point of view of a non-believer, this is not central to the film’s message; the film stands on its facts and arguments, along with some tugging at the heart-strings.

Highly recommended.

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Road Trip!

We decided to take an impromptu road trip through southern Utah last week with almost zero planning, staying at Airbnbs booked the morning before each night’s stay. Flexibility was important because weather was a factor: a storm front passed through Utah last week making some mountain passes less passable. The snow level was about 6,000 ft. Fortunately, the Utah DOT has a mobile app that gives detailed road information, including road surface temperature, air temperature, road surface status (dry/wet/snow/icy), and the realtime location of snowplows.

The objective was to visit National Parks that were omitted from our previous trips to the area. We hit Monument Valley, Arches National Park, and Canyonlands, and the Mojave National Preserve.  I’ll resist the temptation to post a bunch of pictures because they can’t capture the majesty of these places and because there are much better pictures available online. I was only armed with a mobile phone for photography. Besides, these vast panoramas must be experienced in person.

There are three exceptions to the no-picture rule. The first is my favorite, the Landscape Arch, the longest arch in the US at almost 90 m. This arch is much thinner than most and has been showing signs of decline. All arches will eventually fall down. This one might come down at any time so hurry and see it before that happens. [Click on the images below to enlarge.]

These Ute petroglyphs made the cut because there’s something weirdly fascinating about primitive art. The Ute Amerindians carved these figures sometime between 1650 and 1850. The state of Utah is named after the Ute.

Last is the Mexican Hat, a rock formation near the Utah town of Mexican Hat. I first learned of this feature by reading a book chapter on the statistics of climate research by Hans von Storch entitled Misuses of Statistical Analysis in Climate Research. As von Storch notes, erroneous statistical analysis could lead a careless person to conclude that the Mexican Hat is man-made. A similar problem is seen in the analysis of climate data, in which complex statistical methods often hide underlying fallacious assumptions.

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Titania McGrath

British comedian Andrew Doyle created a satirical personality on Twitter called Titania McGrath in April 2018. She is known for her intersectional feminist views and has a new book, Woke: A Guide to Social Justice, published by Constable (an imprint of Little, Brown). She has almost a quarter of a million followers on Twitter. She’s a renowned author of slam poetry: Like Lewis Carroll meets Quentin Tarantino. Her bio reads

Activist. Healer. Radical intersectionalist poet. Selfless and brave. Buy my book.

A reviewer of Titania’s book recently made the connection with Doyle and outed him as the man behind the character. Doyle even had a Twitter argument with Titania. He discussed his satirical character and his experiences since creating her in the latest Quillette podcast. The whole thing is tremendous fun.

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Comrade, You May Vote

… as long as you vote for the approved candidates.

We have a municipal election in which the number of candidates for two of the offices equals the number of officials to be elected. There is one candidate for city clerk and there are two candidates to fill two slots on the school board. The only competitive contest is for city treasurer. The challenger is running on the platform of eliminating the position of city treasurer. I like that but he probably won’t get elected.

There’s nothing like a nice, Soviet-style, election to create the illusion of democracy. California is already a de facto one-party state even if there are other candidates on the ballot. Democracy dies in the light of day.™

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White Self-flagellation

A piece entitled Racist Like Me — A Call to Self-Reflection and Action for White Physicians appears in the current New England Journal of Medicine. It opens as follows:

I am racist. I would love to believe otherwise and can find evidence that I am not — my career dedicated to caring for underserved women of color, my support of colleagues and trainees who are people of color, my score on the implicit-association test. My mission as a white physician is to be humble and respectful toward my patients, not only as an act of compassion but as a revolutionary act against racism, elitism, and hierarchy. And yet I am racist, shaped by the sometimes subtle tendrils of white supremacy deeply embedded in our culture. I mean this not as a sanctimonious admission of guilt, but as a call to self-reflection and action for us white physicians.

You won’t be able to read the whole thing unless you have an account but don’t fret, Gad Saad reads much of it in the video below, with his critiques interspersed. This article does have a comment section, to which I made my own brief contribution. It’s notable that there are more Dissenter comments (7 as of this writing) than there are officially sanctioned comments (5). Even this fairly obscure piece has already attracted Dissenter commenters. The sanctioned comments are screened and subject to editing by the journal. We’ll see if my comment is permitted to appear. Meanwhile, my Dissenter comment is already up.

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Dissenter is Here

Many news websites have eliminated their comment sections. YouTube has been disabling comments on some channels. Apparently, many journalists are upset about the feedback they’re getting on their articles. In the past, letters to the editor were carefully filtered, thereby allowing newspapers to censor any expressions of wrongthink. Gab has created a workaround called Dissenter: a way to comment at any website using a browser extension. It works with all your favorite browsers:

It’s hard to express just how much fun this is. Just go to your favorite lefty website (WaPo, HuffPo, Everyday Feminism, NYT, SPLC, the Guardian) and read the comments made on the main page. Sample comment on the HuffPo main page: “This is where fat women get their news.” Coincidentally, one of the news items on the HuffPo main page happens to be…

My Romanian pal Vee explains how Dissenter works, though he errs in claiming that it only works on Chrome. As he says, it is reminiscent of the early days of the internet. Enjoy it while it lasts.  [language warning]

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Venetian Holiday

I rode to Venice on my bike today. Not Venezia, a local one, inspired by this post. First, a view of the beach toward the southwest. Not much of a beach day since the temperature was about 55 F (about 13 C for you furreners). Lots of footprints in the sand but no bums. A couple of points of interest are indicated.

Turing the camera eastward, we find a playground and some “art” on the left side of the frame.

The bustling center, the very heart of Venice, where tourists, street venders, and a couple of bums are to be found:

Film buffs might recognize this as the location for much of the action in Orson Welles’s 1958 noir classic, A Touch of Evil. The arcade structure is seen in this still.

If this is supposed to be Venice, where are the canals? You have but to ask.

This is a branch off the Grand Canal. The bridge is no Rialto and there are no vaporetti, just some canoes.

On the ride home there is a fork in the road. Yogi Berra advised, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” So I did. Another storm last week added some more snow to the local mountains.

The thirsty rider refreshes himself with a pint or two of a hearty pale ale at a brewery along the way…

…and pays respects to the the Challenger astronauts, including a local boy.

Hope you enjoyed the ride.

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Google Made a Booboo

Turns out that some Nest products have built-in microphones, which fact was only recently disclosed to users. The possibilities for abuse are endless. Looks like Bruce Schneier’s predictions, expressed in his book Click Here to Kill Everybody, are coming true. From the book’s blurb:

From driverless cars to smart thermostats, from autonomous stock-trading systems to drones equipped with their own behavioral algorithms, the internet now has direct effects on the physical world. [emphasis added]

Don’t worry, though. Google admits that not disclosing the microphone “…was an error on our part.” Rest assured they are very sorry. You’ve had a hidden microphone in your house but don’t worry; nobody was listening. Move along; nothing to see (or hear).

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A Study in Fake News

A friend and former colleague sent me a link to the following brief article: A Strong Start to Sierra Snowpack. It purports to be a factual report of the water situation in California. Such stories are always interesting for the things they leave out: the dog that didn’t bark.

Start with the title. Since the snowpack is already above the normal peak, which is referenced to April (seasonal peak), it would be more accurate to say that the snowpack is already well above average for the whole season though it’s still only February. That’s more than a strong start. Furthermore, though the 2017-2018 year was below average, the prior year was well above average. Together, they were about average.It is in the nature of snowfall to fluctuate from year to year.

Next, the article states that “…most of the reservoirs are already more than half-full, and several have water levels that are above the historical average for the middle of February.” It would be more accurate to write that all the reservoirs but one are at or above the historical average for February. The exception is Oroville, which is low because of a major structural failure two years ago. Furthermore, all of the reservoirs are more than half full, which is also misleading because it’s not normal for them to ever be full. Should they ever be almost full, the headline would be “Reservoirs Nearly Full: Flooding Crisis Looms” since they would need to release large amounts of water, which could raise downstream rivers to flood stage.

This 300-word article manages to pack in a tremendous amount of misinformation, brought to you by NASA. This brings to mind the Gell-Mann amnesia effect, or in more modern parlance, fake news. Also relevant is Mencken’s observation  that

Civilization, in fact, grows more and more maudlin and hysterical; especially under democracy it tends to degenerate into a mere combat of crazes; the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.

I would only change the last half to read “…the whole aim of practical media is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

Snow is forecast for tomorrow and Thursday in the Sierra.

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Farmlands

Lauren Southern,* a Canadian independent journalist and activist, made the documentary film Farmlands about the attacks on white farmers in South Africa and the movement to expropriate their land. The film was released on YouTube and is free to watch. It has over 2 million views.

Southern traveled to South Africa to investigate. Even though she has strong political views, she made an effort to be as objective as possible.

The film begins with a review of South African history beginning with the arrival of Europeans in 1652 to the present. Unsurprisingly, it is a history of violence. It provides a useful context to understand the current political situation and the land claims.

Upon arriving in South Africa, she summarizes the current state of affairs, including a significant amount of political violence and destruction of property. She interviews a group that specializes in crime scene cleanup, some of the victims’ families, an official of the ruling party (ANC), and an official of the more radical Black First Land First party, unapologetic communists.

It’s a well-produced, professional documentary. That’s a testament to her crew’s skill and to the capabilities that current technology brings to independent creators given that the project’s budget was probably small. The leftist press characterizes Southern as “far right” and her film as “white nationalist agitprop.” When it comes to agitprop, the Left are certainly the experts.


*Southern also appears in the film Hoaxed, reviewed here. She was interviewed by Dave Rubin two years ago. For a 23-year-old, she’s accomplished a lot.

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Hoaxed

Mike Cernovich’s documentary Hoaxed was recently released on Vimeo, where you can view the trailer and rent the film for $5. It is a comprehensive review of the news media bias through the experiences of Jordan Peterson, Scott Adams, Stefan Molyneux, James O’Keefe, and Cernovich himself. These are likely familiar names to most of you but lest you think that only one side of the political divide is represented, filmaker Cassie Jaye, Vice journalist Tim Poole, and BLM activist Hawk Newsome are also featured. Sharyl Attkisson is quoted extensively, though she’s not credited as a cast member.

Among the key points made in the film are

  • The current business model of news departments requires them to be profit centers, whereas in the past they were loss leaders for newspapers or TV networks. This means that controversy is more important than accuracy.
  • Mainstream journalists rarely do much traditional reporting. Instead, they read each other’s tweets and articles. “A lot of people who claim they are journalists are just repeaters.” In the words of a historian at UT Austin, “they [journalists] seem to play a game of telephone.”
  • Independent news is a significant and growing challenge to the mainstream media. While the legacy media once had a monopoly on the tools of news gathering and reporting, independent journalists can use new technology (GoPros, smart phones) to cover events as well or better at a negligible cost in comparison.
  • Fake news is not new. The film describes New York Times reporter useful idiot Walter Duranty’s lies about the Soviet Union and, in particular, about the Holodomor. “The biggest headcount [bodycount] for fake news is Communism.” There’s a similar, more recent example from NBC News about North Korea.
  • The term “fake news” gained popularity in the immediate wake of the 2016 election, promoted by the MSM (see graph below), but immediately successfully turned against them by Trump.

The film is well made, with high production values. It is engaging, not a boring recitation of facts. As documentaries go, this is an exciting one. Highly recommended.

Google searches for fake news
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