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Jack is a graduate of Rutgers University where he majored in history. His career in the life and health insurance industry involved medical risk selection and brokerage management. Retired for two decades after many years in NJ and NY, he occasionally writes, paints, plays poker, participates in play readings and is catching up on Shakespeare, Melville and Joyce, etc.

Friday, July 28, 2023

July 28, 2023 - Third Parties, Hunter Biden, Weakening Supreme Courts, Mosquito Bites, and Nostalgia Quiz #3

 

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A Third Party - Good or Bad?

Periodically, the New York Times includes a dialog between two of their talented opinion columnists, Gail Collins and Bret Stephens.  Here is an excerpt from their most recent one, edited for the sake of brevity and clarity by Jackspotpourri down to the very important point they were making, the effect of third parties on elections.

  Gail: ‘Third parties are a danger to the American democratic system.  You start a party that makes a big deal out of, for example, helping hummingbirds. Tell voters who don’t love either of the two regular candidates that they can Vote Hummer and feel good. You won’t win the election, but you can throw everything into chaos. In some states, that little shift could be enough to bestow victory somewhere you’d never have wanted it to go to. Say the Crow Coalition.’

  Bret: ‘Of course, I’d be opposed to No Labels (a third-party idea currently being hustled by former Senator Joe Lieberman) if I were convinced that all it will do is take votes from Joe Biden and throw the election to Trump. But that depends on who takes the No Labels slot: If it’s a former Democrat, it probably hurts Biden. If it’s a former Republican, it could hurt Trump even more.’

  Gail: ‘Maybe. I’d rather just make people pick between the two real possibilities, each of them representing a broad coalition and certainly offering a stark choice. I don’t like plotting to win by cluttering up the ballot.’

  Bret: ‘But the main thing, Gail, is that I need a party I can vote for. And I think the feeling is shared by a growing fraction of voters who might be center left or center right but are increasingly appalled by progressive Democrats and reactionary Republicans. So any party that represents our views is good for democracy, not a threat to it.’

  Gail: ‘No, No, Bret. Even if you vote for a third party that perfectly represents your views — or at least your view on a favorite issue — if it isn’t going to win, you’re throwing away your vote. A vote for the Green Party, for instance, is a vote that Biden would probably have gotten otherwise. Which means the Green Party is helping Trump.’

A Republican Scam to Reduce Democratic Votes?

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In 1992, Bill Clinton defeated the incumbent George Bush (370 electoral votes to 168 electoral votes).  But third-party candidate Ross Perot received over nineteen million votes!  Because Clinton received only about 5,800,000 more votes nationwide than did Bush, those nineteen million third-party votes for Perot might have changed the results of that presidential election, had he not been running.  Some of Clinton’s electoral votes might have ended up in Bush’s column. 

(The only time a third-party has any power is when, in a parliamentary system, it joins with others to form a coalition government that controls the naming of a chief executive, or Prime Minister, as in Israel and many European countries.  But we do not have such a system here.  Our Executive Branch is not determined by our Legislative Branch.)

Here are the 1992 numbers, and they strongly support the point Ms. Collins makes.

                                                                Elec. Col. Votes       Pop. Votes

 Bill Clinton

Democratic

                                                   370

           44,909,889

 George Bush

Republican

                                                   168

           39,104,545

 Ross Perot

Independent

                                                     0

            19,742,267

JL

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GOP Fixation on Hunter Biden (and his laptop)

Could it be that the Republican preoccupation with Hunter Biden, who had planned to plead guilty to the charges brought against him, in exchange for an ‘immunity’ deal, is part of their efforts to paint the Biden family as being as crooked and dishonest as were the family of the indicted former president? 

Their House majority is even planning on attempting to impeach President Biden, but are having a hard time figuring out for doing what.  Meanwhile they concentrate on Hunter Biden, for want of another target.

What Hunter Biden did (being overpaid to nominally sit on the Board of a Ukrainian corporation, not properly paying income taxes, and possessing a weapon while in a drug rehab program) is paled by some of the dealings the defeated and indicted former president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, for example, had with Saudi Arabia’s murderous rulers, who bailed him out of a disaster involving the financing of a major Manhattan property, in which Kushner was in debt far over his head.  And whatever Hunter did was nowhere near what the indicted, defeated, former president is currently being accused of doing by the Department of Justice.  But that's another story!

Hunter Biden’s transgressions are at a lower level (two misdemeanors concerning taxes and a low-level felony regarding gun possession while under treatment for an addiction) than the charges Republicans wish would had been filed by the Department of Justice’s prosecutor.  (That prosecutor happens to be a Republican, not replaced in office by the Biden administration.)  Republicans will grasp at any straws whatsoever to keep their Party from disintegrating.

The judge in the case, appointed by the defeated and indicted former president, is now questioning the degree of immunity Hunter Biden was offered by the prosecution when he agreed to plead guilty to the tax and gun violations, and has since changed that plea to ‘not guilty.’

Was it a ‘sweetheart deal’ just for those issues or was it intended to apply to anything that might come up?   Republicans want immunity limited to just those charges in the event they can get some mileage out of what they insinuate is unspecified dirty laundry supposedly documented on Hunter Biden’s laptop.

That ‘dirty laundry,’ some sources claim, included his offering a possible avenue to his father, then Vice President, who might be asked to exert pressure upon Ukraine to fire a prosecutor, Victor Shokin, who was supposedly intent on investigating the firm that had put Hunter Biden on its Board at a generous salary.  There is no evidence that any such 'avenue' was ever opened or ever resulted in any action by then Vice President Joe Biden on his son's behalf.

Being given an opportunity does not mean that it was
ever taken advantage of, and there is no evidence that
it ever was, despite what this front page of a newspaper,
 also a property of Fox News' owner, Rupert
Murdoch, suggests.  And here is the text of the email.


*  *  


This is the exact text of the email found on the laptop.  While Vadym was given the opportunity to meet with Vice President Biden, there is no indication that he actually ever did. The email thanks Hunter for three things, (1) the invitation to D.C., (2) being given an 'opportunity' to meet with his father, and (3) spending some time together with Hunter (not with Joe) Biden.



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Victor Shokin was indeed fired in 2016, but not because of any pressure which might have been exerted by Vice President Biden to benefit his son, and there is no evidence that any such pressure was ever exerted.  In fact, Shokin was no longer investigating the firm on whose board Hunter Biden was at the time of his firing.  It was by then a closed issue. And that can be easily documented.

The firing was also a goal of the  European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, as well of United States as a matter of foreign policy, all of whom were aware of this prosecutor’s well-known history of corruption.   When visiting Kiev during his term as Vice President, Joe Biden did indeed push for the firing of Shokin, along with these other groups who were aware of Shokin's corruption, but that had nothing whatsoever to do with his son's business connections in Ukraine.  By then, Shokin's investigation of the firm on whose board Hunter Biden sat was already a closed issue.

The only ones who seemed to think the Ukrainian prosecutor, Victor Shokin, was treated poorly by being fired were our defeated former president and perhaps Vladimir Putin, across the border in Russia.

The Department of Justice prosecutor in Hunter Biden’s current court case did not include any of this in his charges, which might have led to the more serious charge of his being an unregistered foreign agent, because evidence to make such a charge could not be gathered, despite concerted efforts to find it during the administration of the defeated and indicted former president, including investigations by Special Counsel John Durham and the current prosecutor. 

Still, Republicans feel that something nefarious was going on even though they could find no evidence of it other than the one email where a Ukrainian official communicated with Hunter Biden thanking him anyway for something he was unable to attain, access to the Vice President. That was all that was on the laptop, other than some dirty pictures.

It is understandable that the judge wants to clear up the question of whether Hunter Biden’s ‘immunity’ deal should be limited to just the two tax violations and the gun possession violation.  She certainly is aware of the results of the very extensive Durham investigation, as was the prosecutor who decided not to proceed down that road because of the lack of evidence and witnesses.  Apparently, that investigation is not closed, according to the prosecution in the current litigation, and that is why the judge questions the breadth of the ‘immunity deal.’ 

The judge’s prime concern seems to be the ambiguity, possibly intentional, of the ‘immunity’ deal should a future dispute arise as to how such ’immunity’ applies, especially to a ‘diversion’ program in lieu of a guilty plea regarding the gun charge, leaving such decisions to the courts.

The judge feels that is not a function of the court and believes it belongs with the Executive branch, in the hands of the Department of Justice.  Hunter Biden’s attorneys obviously want such a broad definition of immunity in the event of a Republican president being elected in 2024.  Lawyers on both sides were given 30 days to come up with revised ‘immunity’ language that would result in a guilty plea.

Regardless of what happens, President Biden has been extremely positive in his support of Ukraine in its struggle to maintain its independence from Russia.  That is to his credit, and ought to well balance whatever, if anything, happened between 2014 and 2016 in which he might appear to have been peripherally involved. 

It is interesting that some in the Republican Party oppose our continued support of Ukraine, including our defeated and indicted forty-fifth president, who counts Vladimir Putin as a friend, and this story may be the reason.  He, of course, hopes to run for the presidency in 2024,

In whatever manner this question of immunity will be resolved, and from what I hear and see, it will be, it gives the bedraggled G.O.P. something about which to mobilize their voting base, hungry for anything with which to attack President Biden.

JL

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Weakening the Supreme Court: A Bad Idea for Israel, A Good One for the USA?

I’ve heard many people objecting to Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s weakening of that country’s Supreme Court.  Netanyahu, to secure a majority in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, depends upon the votes of a dangerous, fundamentalist, right-wing Knesset minority, with whose positions he may not fully agree, but whose votes he needs to remain in office.  That minority sees the Supreme Court as an obstacle to many of their programs.  (And Netanyahu also is dealing with some personal litigation where he might want the Supreme Court on his side.)

Israel’s right-wing efforts to weaken that nation’s Supreme Court should not be compared with the aims of those in the United States who want to similarly weaken our Supreme Court, with whose positions regarding abortion rights, gun control measures, and the limits of government regulatory authority, they disagree.  The motivation of those in Israel and the United States differ.

The difference is that in Israel, I believe their Supreme Court was acting in the best interests of the people, to which that Knesset minority objected.  In the United States, I believe our Supreme Court’s decisions seem to be going against the best interests of the people, or at least what appears to be the position of most of the people. 

Of course, determining what is in the ‘best interests’ of people is all too often debatable.  But don’t tell me that there is not a right side and a wrong side to that question.  A Supreme Court should be able to tell right from wrong, and what is in the ‘best interests’ of the people.

Some think that our Supreme Court should not be influenced by current popular opinion, and in fact, be blind to it.  I disagree.  While the blindfold worn by Lady Justice’s statue in front of the Supreme Court building means that no one is above the law, regardless of who they are, it does not mean that justice is blind to everything and anything else.

In my opinion, in Israel or in the United States, these tribunals should be strengthened, not weakened, in their roles of (1) determining what acts are within existing laws, and (2) making decisions that are in the best interest of the people.  

First, however, the manner of the appointment of Justices and their terms of office, as well, must be reformed to better reflect a commitment to exercising these two roles in a manner that reflects the democratic heritage of the people these Courts serve.

It always goes back to what is in the best interest of the people.  That is what counts. 

JL

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Annoyed by Mosquitoes?

Although the evidence is controversial and not fully documented, it appears that mosquitoes are attracted to people with ‘O’ type blood more than to others.  That’s why one hiker in the woods gets bitten up and another does not.  Google the subject (try ‘mosquitoes and blood type O’) and you’ll learn that female mosquitoes do the biting and that they perhaps locate those with that blood type by sensing carbon dioxide levels with their antenna from long distances.

I have always, as a child and right now too, been prone to mosquito bites.  I remember my parents applying pink-colored calamine lotion to them to relieve the itching.  I use a non-prescription cortisone cream to do that job.  And of course, my blood type is ‘O,’ so I believe this theory to be correct.

Late one afternoon last week, I spent a few minutes yanking out an unsightly weed which was growing profusely amidst the bushes in front of my house. I got most of it out, but I also received a few mosquito bites in the process. 

A solution might be to use mosquito repellent spray when you go out, especially in the early evening.  Recent rainfalls have left plenty of puddles in depressed areas where mosquitoes breed.

JL

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Nostalgia Quiz #3

Can you match these old stadiums with the baseball teams they at one time hosted? 

a.   Riverfront Stadium

b.   Sportsman’s Park

c.   Polo Grounds

d.   Shibe Park

e.   Comiskey Park

f.     Briggs Stadium

The teams that played there were the

g.   The New York Giants

h.   The Philadelphia Athletics and Phillies

i.     The Saint Louis Cardinals

j.     The Chicago White Sox

k.   The Detroit Tigers

l.     The Cincinnati Reds

And the answer to Nostalgia Quiz #2 is the Government Employees Insurance Company (GEICO).

JL

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Why Singapore?

Consistently, over the past month, Jackspotpourri has been getting a lot of ‘hits’ from Singapore, second only in number to those from within the United States.  Initially, in fact, it was even greater than the U.S. number, but that quickly leveled off.  It appears that these ‘hits’ are all from devices using Safari mobile.  Conceivably, they may be created by one person repeatedly accessing Jackspotpourri. This is odd because the blog has not dealt with matters concerning that country or region.  When this kind of thing has happened in the past, I attributed it to someone referring to Jackspotpourri in an academic environment or accessing it as part of a nation’s routine surveillance of the internet, and the ‘hits’ eventually ceased.  If any Singaporeans reading this can offer an explanation, it might be helpful.  I will keep an eye on this.

JL

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Housekeeping on Jackspotpourri

Email Alerts:  If you are NOT receiving emails from me alerting you each time there is a new posting on Jackspotpourri, just send me your email address and we’ll see that you do.  And if you are forwarding a posting to someone, you might suggest that they do the same, so they will be similarly alerted. You can pass those email addresses to me by email at jacklippman18@gmail.com.  

Forwarding Postings: Please forward this posting to anyone you think might benefit from reading it. Friends, relatives, enemies, etc.

If you want to send someone the blog, exactly as you are now seeing it, with all of its bells and whistles, you can just tell folks to check it out by visiting https://jackspotpourri.blogspot.com or by providing a link to that address in your email to them.   I think this is the best method of forwarding Jackspotpourri.

There’s another, perhaps easier, method of forwarding it though!   Google Blogspot, the platform on which Jackspotpourri is prepared, makes that possible.  If you click on the tiny envelope with the arrow at the bottom of every posting, you will have the opportunity to list up to ten email addresses to which that blog posting will be forwarded, along with a comment from you.  Each will receive a link to the textual portion only of the blog that you now are reading, but without the illustrations, colors, variations in typography, or the 'sidebar' features such as access to the blog's archives.

Either way will work, sending them the link to https://jackspotpourri.blogspot.com, or clicking on the envelope at the bottom of this posting, but I recommend sending them the link. 

Again, I urge you to forward this posting to anyone you think might benefit from reading it.

JL

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Sunday, July 23, 2023

July 23, 2023 - Mostly About Lawyers, and Buoys, and Court Delays, with Wm. Shakespeare and Thomas More Kicking in, Homelessness and Finally, the Power of Video Games and Mindless Movies

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Buoys Across the Rio Grande



I’ve read where Texas placed a barrier of buoys across the Rio Grande to keep out immigrants.  Our government, pointing out that action’s illegality, declared that if Texas doesn't promise by Tuesday afternoon to remove it immediately, the U.S. will sue.  That's a laugh.   Such a lawsuit will enable lawyers to engineer endless delays, just as they are successfully doing in avoiding attempts to have the defeated former president face justice.  Thomas Paine's historic comments about the 'law being the king' in this country didn't factor in the ability of the legal profession to corrupt that law.  

More and more, it seems that lawyers without ethics are at the crux of the nation’s problems.  Rudy Guiliani, Sydney Powell, John Eastman (actually the dean of a law school!), and even Michael Cohen, when working in the interests of the defeated and indicted former president ignored whatever oaths lawyers take.  The list of his lawyers who ceased working for him, once they got wise to their client, is impressive and to the credit of the legal profession.  

I suppose this item is the keynote for most of the rest of today's posting.

JL

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Headlines Say a Lot

Wednesday’s column by Charles Blow in the New York Times was headlined ‘Why Trump’s Indictments Don’t Feel Like Part of the Finale.’  The Palm Beach Post’s Saturday reprint of almost all of that column was headlined ‘There’s Little Time Left to Hold Trump Accountable.’  Either way, the column is 'must' reading!  Check it out at https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/19/opinion/trump-indictment.html?smid=tw-share  or CLICK HERE to read it. 

Blow hits the nail on the head in pointing out that the defeated former president’s supporters believe in him because ‘they wanted their biases confirmed rather than challenged’ and his celebrity status made that possible.  

(And don’t forget what appears in the preceding item in this posting about the ability of the legal profession to corrupt law to bring about extended delays. (I can't seem to get away from that this morning.)

JL

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Lawyers, Shakespeare, Sir Thomas More, and our Forty-fifth President

This key line by William Shakespeare from his play, Henry VI, Part 2, written in about 1592 is frequently quoted.  They are spoken by a  criminal insurrectionist who cries out, “First thing, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

The meaning of this has been debated for years as to whether Shakespeare meant that lawyers were good for society, working to protect people, and that only the bad guys, like the criminal character for whom he wrote these lines, would want to kill lawyers, or that lawyers were bad for society, part of a system that oppressed the rights of citizens.  On whose side was Shakespeare anyway?

Sir Thomas More’s ‘Utopia,’ his early vision of an ideal world, was finally published in England about forty years before Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2 was written, and could have influenced him.  More was himself a lawyer and rose to the position of Lord Chancellor (before he was beheaded by Henry VIII, but that’s another story), a position not unlike a combination of the roles of our present Attorney-General and Supreme Court Chief Justice. This excerpt from ‘Utopia,’ More’s fantasy about an ideal world, suggests what he had thought of lawyers and laws in general at that time.

‘They (the Utopians) have no lawyers among them. For they esteem them (think of them to be) a class, whose profession it is to disguise matters, and to writhe (meaning ‘twist’) the laws. Therefore they think it much better that every man should plead his own cause, and trust it to the judge, as elsewhere the client trusteth it to his counsellor (lawyer). By this plan they avoid many delays, and find out the truth with more certainty. For after the parties have opened the merits of the cause without the artifices of lawyers, the judge examines the matter and supports the simplicity of those well-meaning persons whom otherwise the crafty (lawyers) would run down. And thus they avoid those evils which appear so remarkable in those countries which labour under a vast load of laws.’

The words I’ve put in red suggest what More had thought of the legal profession and laws at the time he wrote ‘Utopia.’  (This blog has been frequently referring to More's ideas.)  I wonder what he and Shakespeare, for that matter, would think of the lawyers involved in the pending indictments of our forty-fifth president, who I cannot even imagine pleading his own cause directly before a judge as More suggests, without the benefit of counsel.  That would probably produce a comedy superior to any that Shakespeare wrote.

JL

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Homelessness 

When I was a kid, I recall seeing photographs of people sleeping in the streets in places like what used to be called Calcutta or Bombay. (Both cities now use their original un-anglicized names, Kalikata and Mumbai.)  

They're still sleeping on the streets in India, and now, here too.

And during the Great Depression in this country for a while, unemployed veterans were living in makeshift structures in parks.  They called them ‘Hoovervilles,’ named after the president at the time.  World War Two helped solve this problem with significant job creation, especially in California.

If you read the attached article on today’s homeless population in this country, truly a disgrace, you will find that this tragic situation is based on housing being unaffordable for many, even those with jobs that don’t provide enough income to pay rent for a place to live. 

The article, from NPR’s national newsfeed last week, can be found at https://www.npr.org/2023/07/12/1186856463/homelessness-rent-affordable-housing-encampments?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20230713&utm_term=8738041&utm_campaign=news&utm_id=65835993&orgid=482&utm_att1=  or by CLICKING HERE.

Check it out, it's a short read. A minute or two.

Years ago, we had solutions for this problem.  They were known as ‘slums.’  Often, families including many relatives were squeezed together in what were called railroad flats, running from front to the back of a structure, in old, dilapidated, multi-story, tenements in the worst parts of our major cities, where they were overcharged for housing that building inspectors would condemn if they ever got near to them, which they never did.  But at least, as bad as their housing was, slum dwellers were not homeless.


A Solution 120 Years Ago, but not Today

At one time, such buildings were new, but after over a century of band-aid type repairs, many were candidates for demolition.  As that occurred, they were replaced by housing with higher rents, often part of the gentrification of a neighborhood, which locals could not afford.  Parts of Brooklyn are an example.

For a while, government stepped in to provide housing once the slums were razed in the form of public housing for those with low incomes.  These were the towering red brick ‘projects’ that housed those who a few decades earlier would have been slum dwellers.  Along with State rent controls, this was an attempt at a solution. But there were never enough of either to take care of those whose income did not include enough money to afford whatever housing was on the market, not to mention the unemployed who couldn’t afford anything at all.  And the remaining ‘projects’ are now deteriorating while the ancient, run-down buildings that a century ago provided housing in ‘the slums’ do not exist any longer.  Nowadays, buildings are not allowed to get that old.  Look around your neighborhood.

In the nineteenth century, as the United States expanded westward, those who could not afford housing in the original thirteen States were among those who settled the vast open spaces of the continent stretching to the Pacific coast.  That solution is no longer possible and the homeless are present in these areas now too.

While the NPR article does not offer solutions, I see two approaches to them.

One is to hope that the economy grows to the point where every employed American can afford a decent place to live, as provided by the housing marketplace. But as the poet wrote, ‘Hope springs eternal in the human breast.’

The other is for the Federal government to step in and through taxation of individuals and businesses, or the sale of bonds, build more public housing, and provide low interest financing enabling builders to provide affordable housing to all who seek it.  

Oh, I know we tried that once and it eventually failed us.  But it might succeed if done ‘the right way.’ The tricky questions of where such housing would be built (urban, suburban, or rural?), who would qualify to live there, and whether some kind of rent control need be instituted also cannot be ignored.

This country should be up to meeting this challenge.

JL

 *  *  *

How Did I Miss This?

In an article in the New York Times about Microsoft’s apparently successful continuing efforts to absorb a video game company, the following shocking information was included.

‘The game industry now accounts for significant chunks of the economy. It is larger than music, U.S. book publishing and North American sports combined. Microsoft’s game division and Activision Blizzard, the company Microsoft is targeting, each make more money annually than all U.S. movie theaters.’

Where was I when this happened?  I thought it just involved mostly kids. My contact with video games is minimal (occasionally I play a game of ‘Spider Solitaire’), but somehow, this massive change in our economy and its social effects, slipped by me and many of my generation.  I still read books, watch sports, and go to the movies.

Solutions for our social and economic problems based on ‘gaming’ won’t work because games are based on a fictional ‘reality’ of which our society is not a part.  It has its own rules and laws which don’t work for real people.

Adults, who’ve regressed to playing video ‘games,’ instead of facing life, also seem to go for the fictional 'reality' of movies like ‘Barbie’ or those based on the old Marvel Comics.  They inhabit a reality of their own and should not have definitive roles in our culture. But apparently, they do.

If that is where we are heading, we should remember that Marvel comic book heroes were always second-rate imitations of those found in DC publications. Captain Marvel never was in the same league as Superman. Billy Batson could never get a job as a reporter at the Daily Planet, as Clark Kent did, no matter how many times he screamed ‘Shazam.’

It is time to ‘get real.’  Go to see ‘Oppenheimer.’  (Eat first, it runs about three hours.)  Connect, or reconnect, with reality.

 

JL

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 Nostalgia Quiz #2                                         

GEICO is a large insurance company, often represented in advertisements by a ‘gecko,’ a variety of green lizard.  See if you know today’s answer.

The name of the company, GEICO, is:

a.   An acronym for its origin in Atlanta many years ago as the ‘Georgia Entrepreneurs’ Insurance Company.’

b.   An acronym for its origin as ‘Government Employee’s Insurance Company,’ started back in 1936 to sell insurance to government employees.

c.   Derived from the name of its founder, Croatian immigrant Charles Geicovic, who became a millionaire selling insurance to people more traditional companies avoided soliciting.

d.   Derived from its initial role insuring animals, such as the ‘gecko’ lizard it still uses in its ads.

Which do you think is correct?  The answer will be in the next blog posting. 

The answer to Nostalgia Quiz #1 is the London barber most recently appearing in the Sondheim musical bearing his name, ‘Sweeny Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street.’

JL

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A Closing Quote

Finally, from David Marchese's New York Times Magazine interview of 85-year-old author Joyce Carol Oates, something to think about.  In reminiscing about her work, Oates said 'Everything that you think is solid is actually fleeting and ephemeral.' 

JL

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Housekeeping on Jackspotpourri

Email Alerts:  If you are NOT receiving emails from me alerting you each time there is a new posting on Jackspotpourri, just send me your email address and we’ll see that you do.  And if you are forwarding a posting to someone, you might suggest that they do the same, so they will be similarly alerted. You can pass those email addresses to me by email at jacklippman18@gmail.com.  

Forwarding Postings: Please forward this posting to anyone you think might benefit from reading it. Friends, relatives, enemies, etc.

If you want to send someone the blog, exactly as you are now seeing it, with all of its bells and whistles, you can just tell folks to check it out by visiting https://jackspotpourri.blogspot.com or by providing a link to that address in your email to them.   I think this is the best method of forwarding Jackspotpourri.

There’s another, perhaps easier, method of forwarding it though!   Google Blogspot, the platform on which Jackspotpourri is prepared, makes that possible.  If you click on the tiny envelope with the arrow at the bottom of every posting, you will have the opportunity to list up to ten email addresses to which the blog will be forwarded, along with a comment from you.  Each will receive a link to the textual portion only of the blog that you now are reading, but without the illustrations, colors, variations in typography, or the 'sidebar' features such as access to the blog's archives.

Either way will work, sending them the link to https://jackspotpourri.blogspot.com, or clicking on the envelope at the bottom of this posting, but I recommend sending them the link. 

Again, I urge you to forward this posting to anyone you think might benefit from reading it.

JL

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Wednesday, July 19, 2023

July 19, 2023 - Where Banning Books Can Lead, Artificial Intelligence & Algorithms, Advice for those on Medicare, Voting by Mail, and the Nostalgia Quiz

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First Ban Books, Then Burn Books, Then Burn their Readers

Heine

German poet Heinrich Heine wrote a play, Almansor, in 1821.  One of its most famous lines, ‘Dort, wo man B├╝cher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschenm’ rings true today.  It was forgotten in Germany in the 1930s and has been ignored in other parts of the world as well throughout history. 

Today, some Americans, including Florida’s shameless governor and groups like ‘Moms for Liberty,’ should be made aware that these words, when translated into English are, ‘Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn humans too.’  

Are periodic repetitions of the lessons of the Inquisition and the Holocaust necessary to remind us of this?

Banning books is apparently a more acceptable tactic than burning them, at least in the United States, avoiding the acrid smell of smoke that might bother some people.

In Heine’s 1821 play, Almansor, the book burning was set in 1492, probably not accidentally because that was the year that Jews were being expelled from Spain, but the book being burned was the Koran.  Although this is still an open question among academics, Heine, in 1821, by making the victims Muslim may have been cautiously trying to avoid the play being taken as a comment on the antisemitism of his day directed at Jews, which might have been dangerous for him.  

To better put Heine’s words into their proper context, here is a short article about a lecture given by an Israeli professor and former diplomat in March of 2014 at the Central European University, a small private institution with campuses in Vienna and Budapest. 

"The Tale of Two Book Burnings: Heine’s Warning in Context"

"Heinrich Heine’s ominous sentence, "those who burn books will in the end burn people," is one of the most overquoted phrases in modern history. In his lecture on March 11, CEU Recurring Visiting Professor Sholomo Avineri helped put the sentence into context while outlining the 19th century history of German Jewry.

Avineri
However shocking the Nazi book burning in Berlin in 1933 was, it wasn’t the first time that German students and scholars initiated such acts. Propaganda Minister Josef Goebbels led students and scholars to burn books by authors deemed enemies of the German spirit, Avineri warned.

In the late 18th century Heine’s birthplace, Dusseldorf in particular and the Rhineland in general, was occupied by France. The Jews of the Rhineland were emancipated, with Karl Marx’s father and Heine among them, and were free to attend university and even to practice law or medicine. When the area was annexed to Prussia in 1815, thus far emancipated Jews were given the choice to convert to Christianity and hold on to their profession, or to keep their faith and lose their position. The backlash of this “choice” was that it radicalized the intellectuals, sowing the seeds of future revolutionaries and communists.

With German nationalism, anti-Semitism grew in the early 19th century. Mostly forgotten Kantian philosopher Jakob Friedrich Fries even called for legislation against Jews. He said their influence on Germany was overwhelming, and he even suggested that “they should wear a sign in public places.” However, “Jews were so marginalized at the time, they were basically invisible,” Avineri pointed out. The sentiment of physical exclusion of Jews had been present before the German unification of 1870, although it was the most "Jewish-friendly" country for a short while.

In 1817, two years after the German nationalists' victory over Napoleonic France and on the 300th anniversary of Luther’s 95 Theses, the student fraternities (Burschenschaften) organized a pilgrimage to Wartburg, a center of German nationalism where Luther found sanctuary after his excommunication. At the Wartburg Festival, students declared their universities wouldn’t accept any foreign students - foreign meaning French or Jewish. The only exception was the University of Heidelberg, whose fraternity was labeled the “Juden” fraternity from then on. Nationalistic, pro-unity speeches were given by students and academics, and books whose authors antagonized German unification were burned. The first book to be thrown onto the bonfire was written by a Frenchman and carried the title “Civil.”

Was it this instance of book burning that prompted Heinrich Heine’s prophecy "those who burn books will in the end burn people?” Heine’s first ever play "Almansor" is a tragic love story between an Arab man and Donna Clara, a Moroccan woman who’s forced to convert from Islam to Christianity. Taking place in Granada in 1492, the tragedy depicts the burning of the Qua’ran, the act that prompts the sentence now engraved in the ground of Berlin's Opernplatz commemorating the horrifying book burning of 1933. Why Heine depicted Muslims as the victims of book burning and not the Jews is still an open question.


Heine’s lyrical poetry was well-loved in Germany, his most famous poem "Lorelei" even appeared in a collection of German folk songs, although the poet’s name was given as Anonymous. His books, together with the works of Thomas Mann, Ernest Hemingway, Erich Kastner, Karl Marx, Heinrich Mann and many other "un-German" authors, were also burned on May 10, 1933.

Avineri is professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and member of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. He served as Director-General of Israel's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the first government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He received the Israel Prize, the country's highest civilian decoration in 1996.

The lecture was sponsored by CEU's Nationalism Studies Program and Jewish Studies Program."

JL

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Artificial Intelligence, Social Media, and Algorithms

Kevin Roose https://www.nytimes.com/2023/07/11/technology/anthropic-ai-claude-chatbot.html or by CLICKING HERE.

‘How many of the problems of the last decade — election interference, destructive algorithms, extremism run amok — could have been avoided if the last generation of start-up founders had been this obsessed with safety, or spent so much time worrying about how their tools might become dangerous weapons in the wrong hands?

Clearly, both Fisher and Roose place the blame on the major companies that provide platforms for social media.  Their concentration had been on expansion and profitability

But Artificial Intelligence actually travels a somewhat different route than merely using algorithms in the legitimate, not the poisonous, manner described above, which it does It also provides creative skills to relieve the programmer of the task of fully researching the material they post on social media and use in developing systems for other roles that information technology plays in our economy and society.  

Initially, that would seem to be a good thing.  It augments human creativity in all areas with all that is out there in cyberspace!    But in doing so, it depends upon algorithms, including those which might be questionable.  And it may not test the validity of what it accesses from a myriad of sources.  When asked to write an article on a historic event, for example, A.I.'s sources might include viewpoints that have been totally discredited, but which still are out there, and that a 'human creator' would not think of expressing.

I am still trying to get a handle on A.I., but I can see that it can end up controlling those who use it, those who initially start off using it merely as a creative tool.  

Some feel it can be as great a hazard to mankind as climate change or a global nuclear war.  Why?  Remember that A.I. includes in the sources of its ‘creativity’ faulty, opinionated, if not dangerous, information as a result of the kind of questionable algorithms discussed above.  Such ‘contamination’ of these sources is the heart of the problem.

Yet, some think it might be the opposite, a great work-saving boon to mankind, but there’s a shadow behind that as well, the unemployment it might cause.  The current strike by screenwriters and actors begins to recognize this.

Finally, in the old days (less than a decade ago), it was very expensive to establish an internet presence, requiring large investments.  This was because the required ‘servers’ and hardware needed were very costly.  The advent of ‘the cloud’ solved this problem by making the servers of companies like Microsoft and Google available inexpensively on what amounted to a rental basis. Hence, numerous questionable start-ups were able to appear, with but two prime objectives, quick profitability and being bought by firms like Google for a gigantic price, ethics taking a back seat if being a concern at all.

As I’ve said, I’m still trying to get a handle on Artificial Intelligence and those algorithms that exponentially expand the number of views of a posting.  Any assistance in this area would be appreciated.

JL

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 Nostalgia Quiz #1  (answer will appear on next posting of Jackspotpourri.)   

Sweeny Todd is the name of :

a.   A variety of apple grown in upstate New York, noted for its crispness and sweetness.

b.   SEC quarterback whose records at the University of Alabama were broken by Joe Namath.

c.   A fictitious London barber who murdered his customers to become ingredients in meat pies.

JL

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Voting By Mail in Florida Requires Signing Up Again!



Even if you voted by mail in 2020 and 2022, it is still necessary for you to again sign up to again vote my mail. 
If you live in Palm Beach County, you can take care of this and find more information on voting and elections at www.votepalmbeach.gov  including if perhaps you’ve already requested a vote-by-mail ballot, and when that choice expires for you.  Don't assume that though.  Check it out on the site!  Elsewhere in Florida, contact your local Supervisor of Elections.

JL

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Managing Your Medicare Representative

Senior citizens should be aware that even after they set up a power of attorney or a health care proxy, Medicare will not discuss benefits, or anything for that matter, with a senior’s relatives or lawyers, without specific authorization to do so.  The senior may not be available to join in a telephone conversation to orally give such authorization which might suffice. This can cause delays and inconvenience for seniors who might depend on others to help with medical decisions.

This hurdle can be easily overcome according to an article in the AARP Bulletin.  If the senior has an online Medicare account, all that need be done after logging in is to go to ‘Edit My Account Settings,’ and then click on to ‘Manage My Representatives.’ If the senior doesn’t have an online account, going to Medicare.com will make establishing one very simple.  Because none of us know what the future might bring, this should be done in advance.  Like now.

JL

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Housekeeping on Jackspotpourri

Email Alerts:  If you are NOT receiving emails from me alerting you each time there is a new posting on Jackspotpourri, just send me your email address and we’ll see that you do.  And if you are forwarding a posting to someone, you might suggest that they do the same, so they will be similarly alerted. You can pass those email addresses to me by email at jacklippman18@gmail.com.  

Forwarding Postings: Please forward this posting to anyone you think might benefit from reading it. Friends, relatives, enemies, etc.

If you want to send someone the blog, exactly as you are now seeing it, with all of its bells and whistles, you can just tell folks to check it out by visiting https://jackspotpourri.blogspot.com or by providing a link to that address in your email to them.   I think this is the best method of forwarding Jackspotpourri.

There’s another, perhaps easier, method of forwarding it though!   Google Blogspot, the platform on which Jackspotpourri is prepared, makes that possible.  If you click on the tiny envelope with the arrow at the bottom of every posting, you will have the opportunity to list up to ten email addresses to which the blog will be forwarded, along with a comment from you.  Each will receive a link to the text portion only of the blog that you now are reading, but without the illustrations, colors, variations in typography, or the 'sidebar' features such as access to the blog's archives.

Either way will work, sending them the link to https://jackspotpourri.blogspot.com, or clicking on the envelope at the bottom of this posting, but I recommend sending them the link. 

Again, I urge you to forward this posting to anyone you think might benefit from reading it.

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