Bruce Momjian


Technology Laptop Replacement

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Did you ever buy something, have it wear out, and then have an unexpected challenge in replacing it? That was my experience replacing my Lenovo X1 laptop.

I bought a Lenovo X1 Gen 5 laptop in 2019, and it still worked fine, except that the page up key stopped working, the red trackpoint on the keyboard didn't respond to force feedback like it used to, and the laptop was slightly sluggish, even running Ubuntu. A keyboard replacement was quoted as $350, so I started looking for a new laptop.

Yes, I was going to have to spend 1-2 days configuring it, but that seemed unavoidable. Fortunately I write down all my modifications, so I just need to go through the configuration checklist and make the necessary adjustments. FYI, while it is unavoidable that you must spend time configuring a new laptop to be just like an old laptop, it always feels wasteful.

I thought I would use the same purchase criteria I used last time. I bought the old X1 Gen 5 by just choosing the least expensive model available, because I wanted something cool and quiet, since all my heavy processing is done on my server. I ended up ordering the cheapest Lenovo X1 laptop, which was a Gen 10 version with a Intel Core i5-1240P cpu. You might be surprised I mentioned the cpu, and I didn't focus on that at purchase time either, but that was a mistake.

I got the laptop, all shiny and new, and installed and configured Ubuntu. However, within hours, I started to realize my mistake. This laptop was running hot, too hot to be sitting on my lap for hours, even when set to minimal performance. The fan, which never ran on my old Gen 5, was running even for simple tasks like watching YouTube videos. Within a few days, it was obvious that I needed a different new laptop. Fortunately I knew I could easily return this laptop — in fact, so easily, all I had to do was to click on a button on the Lenovo ordering website, specify a reason for the return, and take the laptop in its original box to a local ups store with Lenovo's return label. Seemed quite simple for a $1,000 usd return.

I had incorrectly assumed that cheaper laptops would always be lower power, cooler, and with better battery life. However, the Gen 11 laptops had been released for a while, so Lenovo was selling a powerful Gen 10 at a discount, and that is what I had unfortunately purchased.

So, I needed a another laptop, but how could I get one like the Gen 5 I used to have, and not like the Gen 10 I was returning? I thought that would be easy, but it wasn't. I had to dig to find the answer. Either my Gen 5 was an anomaly in its cool operation, or few people care about the heat generated by their laptops. Oddly, all my answers came from Redit posts. The key one explained the heat difference between the Intel "P" and "U" processors, with the comment:

This will happen in almost every laptop with Intel P series.

Sorry i had to put it in caps, but really, if you're looking for something better, go amd this season or Intel U series.

Confirming that my Gen 5 laptop had a "U" cpu, I knew I was on the right track. I then found this article that, while focusing on battery life, also applies to cooling. This article summarized it well, stating "P" is for "performance thin and light laptops", and "U" is for "next-gen ultralight laptops and foldables."

I ended up purchasing a X1 Gen 11 laptop with an Intel Core i5-1335U cpu. The "U" at the end of the cpu number is what gave me confidence that the laptop would be like my original Gen 5 laptop, and it has succeeded — it is cool, and the fan rarely runs.


Technology Geiger Counter

Monday, April 8, 2024

I have studied nuclear weapons and reactors, and years ago there was radiation contamination in a town near where I live. I also fly a lot, which exposes me to higher than normal level of background radiation. For these reasons, I started to wonder about radiation and how much exists in my environment.

I bought a Geiger counter so I could measure radiation exposure. I checked around my house but couldn't find any unusual sources of radiation. I was able to connect the device to my server, and I am now checking for high levels of radiation every 15 minutes. I can even compute the average level of background radition over the past two weeks, which is currently 17.2 cpm. I plan to take the Geiger counter on my next flight, where I expect to measure 25-times higher than normal radiation levels.

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Technology How has ancient Roman cement stood test of time so well?

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

This fascinating article explains how the self-healing contents of ancient Roman cement allowed it to remain strong for so many centuries.

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Technology Climate Apology

Monday, April 1, 2024

While the climate crisis gets lot of press, this article explains that there are bigger problems than climate change, and that some of our solutions are counter-productive.

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Faith Politics Distorting Evangelicals

Friday, March 29, 2024

This article explains that politics and the desire for power and revenge have distorted the values of some Christian churches.

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Faith Christian Revivals

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

People assume that the religious participation of the US population has been consistent over the centuries, but history shows otherwise. There have been several revivals that have re-ignited Christian devotion. This article explains the common patterns of these revival movements.

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Faith Weavertown Amish Mennonite Church

Monday, March 25, 2024

As part of my research on the Old Order Amish, I learned that a group had left the Old Order Amish in 1909 because they did not wish to practice shunning. I wondered if the church still existed. I easily found their website, which had many sermon videos available. In watching the sermons, I was impressed by the church's focus on holy living, which is not a focus in the mainline Protestant churches I had attended. Interestingly, salvation through faith alone was only embraced by Weavertown after tent revival meetings swept through Lancaster in the 1950's.

I first attended the church in person in September of 2021, and have attended once every few months ever since. I continue to learn by attending and interacting with their members. The church has no full-time pastor, but six unpaid pastors. Each pastor has a different focus: one focuses on holy living, another on theology, a third on emotional issues, and the other three focus more on encouragement and general teaching.

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Faith Online Amish Resources

Friday, March 22, 2024

In 1517, Martin Luther expressed his disapproval of the Catholic Church and later translated the Bible into common German. New access to the Bible inspired the formation of the Anabaptist movement which focused on living based on Biblical principles, and led to much persecution. In the late 1600's, the Amish split from the existing Anabaptists, who were known as Mennonites.

A subgroup of Anabaptists called Old Order Amish are known throughout the world for their reliance on horse-drawn transportation, shunning of externally-supplied electricity, and close-knit communities There are many online resources available to understand these people.

The simplest book available is The Puzzles of Amish Life, which covers many of the fundamentals of the group. A longer book, by the same author, is The Riddle of Amish Culture. A more analytical treatment of the topic is An Amish Paradox, which covers the variety of practices within Old Order Amish communities.

While books provide a valuable foundation, videos provide a more expressive window into this culture. The most comprehensive set of videos is a six-part series called "Breaking the Silence", produced in 2018. A companion video looking back at the history of the culture is "The Amish and The Reformation". The stories presented are not universally happy — over time the High German Bible in use became less understood by the Amish, causing the man-made rules designed to encourage holy living to take on undue importance. They became more important than the Bible-based goals the group was founded on. The final video summarizes it with, "Every generation has people who try to use religion to manipulate and control others." The most clear disconnect can be seen in the video, "THE REAL Amish Lifestyle And The Clash Between God & Rules" which follows an Old Order Amish member who was excommunicated ("shunned") for reading the Bible. A followup video covers his family's transition to a new life. (I have had the honor of meeting some of the people featured in these videos.)

There are some good videos that explore the Amish lifestyle. "Living Plain" delves into the Amish world in a neutral way, as does this video. "Inside Amish Vacationland" (part 1, part 2) follows a non-Amish man as he visits a Florida vacation community frequented by the Amish. He then went to visit the Amish in their homes which birthed a video series. The Amish Potato is a YouTube channel produced by a former Amish man who answers questions about his previous lifestyle and his transition out of the Amish world.

With all this controversy, you might be wondering if the Amish are Christian, and this video attempts to answer the question. There are groups trying to help the Amish more-fully embrace a biblical view of Christianity. This person talks about helping Amish in rural Pennsylvania, and this ministry sends postal mail with the gospel message and training materials to tens of thousands of Amish in the United States.

In closing, I would like to share a recording of "Das Loblied," a song which is sung at every Old Order Amish service and goes back to the early days of Anabaptism.

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Faith Free Will Is an Illusion?

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The concept of free will goes back millenia but has taken on new importance as people have continued to explore the depths of the physical universe. This article makes a powerful case that, if God doesn't exist, there is no underlying force to give us agency over the chemical processes in our brain that control our actions. I agree the existence of God is required for free will to exist.

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Faith Why Individual Liberty Should Have Limits

Monday, March 18, 2024

This excellent article starts by talking about assisted suicide in Canada, but using that as a framework, it starts to discuss why it is wrong for individuals to feel they have the right to decide to end their lives. It explores the responsibilities that everyone has to their families and communities. I have always felt individual liberty had limits, usually specified by God, but this analysis gives a more secular face to such responsibilities.

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History Armenian Genocide Summary

Friday, March 15, 2024

This Wall Street Journal article provides a good summary of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

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Government America Has Gone Too Far in Legalizing Vice

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Discussions around the promotion or prohibition of vices in society are regularly discussed from the extremes, with little understanding of the delicate balance that gives most people freedom while avoiding the most negative affects of vices. This article espouses that middle position:

These debates expose a conflict over what we believe about virtue and vice. If we think that human beings — especially young people who are forming the habits that will last a lifetime — tend to make decisions based on what they have reasoned to be their best interests, then legalization makes sense. If life is a series of contracts we enter into freely, then there's no reason to keep potential harms off our smartphone or out of storefront dispensaries. However, this way of seeing the world overlooks the fact that our hearts and minds are shaped not only by reason but also by our experiences, affections, and, most important, our habits, which are just as often inexplicably self-destructive as they are reasonable.

and it has a reasonable plan for how to address future vice decisions:

Driven by this rich view of life together, we should make it as difficult as possible to access things that impair our ability to make good decisions. It's not the government's primary job to protect people from their own worst impulses, nor is the state the primary source of our virtue formation. But we do recognize that policy plays a role in shaping the environment so that we can develop our virtues. Just as highways have guardrails for the moments when a driver isn't exercising perfect self-control, so we also need guardrails to help people from driving off cliffs of vice.

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Government A New Theory of American Power

Monday, March 11, 2024

The USA is at a crossroads in terms of how we project leadership. Based on "20 years of failed wars," some feel inaction is the best policy, as outlined in this article:

The best that such a country can do for the world is as little as possible. After the fall of Afghanistan, Moyn, a law and history professor at Yale, told Vox: "The most remarkable fact about liberals today is that, aside from a few, they've all learned their lesson." What lesson? That "humanitarian intervention" is a contradiction, and war itself almost always wrong; that the U.S. cannot change other countries and does a lot of harm trying; that Americans are willing to accept far too much violence in the name of "security" and "democracy"; that the period of American global hegemony was a disaster best consigned to history.

With the war in the Ukraine, this approach is unsustainable. US assertiveness is required to help push back the forces of nationalism, but with a warning:

Liberalism suffers from inherent weaknesses that Putin and other autocrats shrewdly exploit. Championing borderless values such as freedom and equality, it falls prey to a kind of imperialist zeal (in his September speech announcing the illegal annexation of four Ukrainian regions, Putin held up Russia as a bulwark against Western colonialism). Declining to affirm any transcendent moral order, liberalism loses its attractive power when it offers a flat world with a smartphone in every pocket and nothing meaningful to live for. And it triggers bitter reaction when it fails to grasp the abiding appeal of nationalism.

The article ends with this admonition, "Don't imagine that America can bring the light of freedom to the world, but don't think the world will be better off if we just stop trying."

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Government Obama's Lost Opportunity

Friday, March 8, 2024

There was much anticipation when Barack Obama was elected president in 2008. Much of the anticipation was because he was the first black president, but my anticipation was that he was the first politician in many years who could speak to the shared national concerns of both liberals and conservatives. Unfortunately, once he became president, that shared concern language quickly disappeared. I remember listening to his early presidential speeches hoping to hear that shared language, and being disappointed. In fact, I started to think that I had been overly optimistic of Obama's intellectual abilities. Then, recently, I read this article that saw Obama's oratorical failure in the same way, and I felt justified in my initial analysis:

But it was in public, when using his "coalition-building political voice," where he made his fatal mistake. Successful presidents have done precisely the opposite, using their "prophetic voice" to whip up popular energy and enthusiasm for their agenda and their "coalition-building political voice" to sell their colleagues on that agenda as something that is in the electoral interest of those same politicians. In short, instead of laying himself bare before the people and then managing their representatives carefully in private, Obama sought to manage the people carefully and then lay himself bare before their representatives, hoping to persuade the few where he knew he could not persuade the many.

Why had Obama stopped using his shared voice? Had he deemed it unnecessary since he was now elected? Did he fell it was ineffective? Had he gotten tired? The article suggests he never believed the shared language. We might never know, but it is terrible to see a lost opportunity, and one which seems even more elusive than it did when Obama was president.

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Government Mentally Ill U-Turn

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Decades ago, the hospitalization of mentally ill people was commonplace. Inhumane treatment of the mentally ill in hospitals and an increasing emphasis on individual liberties eventually closed mental hospitals and greatly restricted the ability for governments to forcibly require mentally ill people to get treatment. After decades of an emphasis on the liberties of mentally ill people, a new focus on the cost of mentally ill people interacting with society has forced New York City to enact new policies to allow government departments to force mentally ill people to be treated. This could expand to other localities that are also struggling with mentally ill citizens. This 2005 video explains how many mentally ill people end up being treated in prison.

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Government Why Azerbaijan Will Keep Attacking Armenia

Monday, March 4, 2024

This video explains well the forces behind the Armenia/Azerbaijan conflict and why these forces are likely to continue to destabilize the region.

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Government Country Names

Friday, February 23, 2024

There are 193 countries in the world. You would think it would be easy for countries to pick distinct names, but that does not seem to be the case. The most extreme example is this set of countries:

But these are not the only ones. Gabon and Gambia are similar. Nigeria and Niger are also similar, but at least they are next to each other.

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Games Why Video Games Are Fun

Monday, February 19, 2024

This article explains that video games offer puzzles, challenges, and autonomy that are often unavailable in the real world.

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Flight Flight Diversion

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

On December 11, 2016, I flew my one and only diverted flight, and I was involved in the diversion.

My son Matthew and I were flying home from an Asian trip. Several hours into the Seoul to Dallas flight, flight crew made an announcement asking if there were any doctors on board. I didn't see any activity, and Matthew hadn't heard the announcement because he was using headphones, so I told him about it and asked him to check with the flight crew. Within several minutes, a team of three medical professionals was formed: Matthew, an emt at the time, an oncologist, and an Army medic.

Someone had passed out in the airplane lavatory, and the team got to work figuring out the cause and possible treatment. The patient was an elderly Korean man who spoke little English, and it was determined that he had had a stroke. While airplanes carry a large amount of medical supplies, partly for use on passengers after abnormal landings, they do not carry the medicine required to treat stroke victims. The medicine must be administered within several hours of a stroke, so waiting until we arrived in Dallas was not an option. The medical staff studied the flight route on the airplane monitors and coordinated with the captain to land in Anchorage, Alaska. The sick patient and his wife were moved to the front of the plane, and once we landed, ambulance staff boarded the plane and took them off to a nearby hospital. We then continued our flight to Dallas.

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Flight The Airline Industry's Problem with Absolutely Ancient IT

Monday, February 12, 2024

With steady improvement of airplane technology, you would think that technological improvement would extend to all parts of the airline. However, this video explains that the information technology supporting many airline processes are decades old, hampering smooth flight operation, especially when airline interoperability and rare events occur.

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Electronics Led Over Brightness

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

When the Macintosh was released, it was first computer to offer a wide selection of fonts. This prompted many people to use too many fonts in their documents, leading to the ransom note effect. New technology often gets overused at first, and I have seen this recently with led lights. Manufacturers can inexpensively add very bright led lights to products, and some products have added overly-bright led lights. To correct this problem, I have used electrical tape to disable the light, and black marker on the led bulbs to reduce their brightness. For non-permanent adjustments, I have used black marker to darken clear plastic tape that I then place over the bulbs. I just bought a ThinkPad X1 Gen11 and used the dark tape method to reduce the brightness of the power led. Though the leds can be turned off programatically, I still want to see them lit.

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Economics The 9.9 Percent Is the New American Aristocracy

Thursday, February 1, 2024

This article, and the book upon it was based, argues that, while the top 0.1% and bottom 90% of the US economic population are well understood, the middle 9.9% are not, even by their own group. While priding themselves on their meritocratic membership, the article argues that many forces and barriers in place make membership self-selecting. Using graphs and a measurement of "intergenerational earnings elasticity," the article explains how people in the 9.9% strive to stay there, as well as their offspring. In summary, the article asks those in the 9.9% to be honest about their privilege and open to allow for a more egalitarian outcome.

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Economics Socialism Always Fails

Monday, January 29, 2024

There have been many socialist experiments over the past centuries, and many large ones in the previous century. They all failed, but it is not clear that there has ever been a clear reckoning on why they failed. The common explanation is that the "right" leaders were not in charge, but my previous blog entry explained that there were many different leaders and many different approaches to communism, and they all failed. Ultimately, it was the assumption that human nature was perfectable that prevented communism from working, though this is rarely explored. Liberal thought assumes human nature is malleable and ultimately good and perfectible with the right environment.

Conservative thought assumes human nature is fixed and corrupt, independent of its environment. In fact, I already blogged that not only are people imperfectable and corrupt, but governments also have corrupting influences on society.

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Economics Loan Sharks Come to Governments

Friday, January 26, 2024

Loan sharks and predatory loans capitalize on people who want money for purchases and don't consider the long-term cost of paying the loans back. Many governments have laws limiting the availability of such loans. However, what happens when governments are the people who want money? We have found out from China's massive loans to struggling governments. Pakistan, Kenya, Zambia, Sri Lanka, Laos and Mongolia are having difficulty paying back loans from China.

Sometimes the governments didn't consider the difficulty of paying back the loans, and sometimes the government leaders who approved the loans used the money to enrich themselves and left office before the loans became due. There are no extra-governmental regulations that control such loans, so they will likely continue to occur, with the same negative consequences.

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Economics Illegal Immigration as Outsourcing

Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The United States has a pattern of outsourcing as much as possible to save costs. Decades ago, the US started outsourcing information technology jobs to India, and call center jobs to many Asian countries. Also several decades ago, the US started outsourcing manufacturing to China.

One job segment that cannot be easily outsourced is local services. Illegal immigration has now filled the need for inexpensive local service workers. Unfortunately, all of these activities have reduced the wages of domestic workers in these fields. If these negative wage forces affected more wealthy or highly-skilled individuals, there would probably be political efforts to reduce it, but because it doesn't, it is mostly ignored.

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Economics Predatory Pricing and Venture Capital

Monday, January 22, 2024

Ever since the Internet streamlined the ability of businesses to scale and innovate, people have been given new ways to consume products and services, and often at atypically low prices. Many of these new Internet-based companies have operated at a loss for years, hoping to eventually attain a large enough market share to be profitable. However, this article says that economists believe that such money-losing behavior is irrational since recoupment is unlikely:

Their head-spinning argument goes like this: Predators have a larger market share to begin with, so if they cut prices, they stand to lose much more money than their competitors. Meanwhile their prey can simply flee the market and return later, like protomammals sneaking back to the jungle after the velociraptors leave. Predatory companies could never recoup their losses, which meant predatory behaviors are irrational.

If the behavior is irrational, why is it so common? The article argues that it is irrational only if you consider the entire life of the company. If you are a venture capital firm who is only concerned about the monetization of the company for a short time, it is rational:

"Will Uber ever recoup the losses from its sustained predation?" Wansley and Weinstein write. "We do not know. Our point is that, from the perspective of the VCs who funded the predation, it does not matter. All that matters is that investors were willing to buy the VCs' shares at a high price."

The article argues that it is the late-term investors who have to deal with recoupment, and often unsuccessfully.

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Community Social Status

Friday, January 19, 2024

This article argues that social status is a major motivator of human behavior.

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Community Victimhood

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

The behavioral aspects of victimhood are rarely discussed. There is often legitimate trauma that causes a victimhood mentality, and discussing victimhood often seems like blaming the victim. However, the trauma is often decades in the past, so addressing the aspects of victimhood is something that should be considered helpful, rather than allowing people to continue to suffer from past trauma. This checklist is helpful in identifying victimhood.

As an Armenian, I met relatives who had experienced trauma from the Armenian Genocide, and they often had victim mentality behaviors. From this I learned that even groups can have victim mentality behaviors, and Armenians are certainly not alone in experiencing past trauma. Hopefully this topic can be discussed more often so people can experience healing.

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Government Foreign Incarceration Developments

Monday, January 15, 2024

Two years ago, I wrote about the incarceration of foreigners, specifically the arbitrary enforcement of local laws used by host countries to gain leverage against foreign governments. The problem has gotten worse since then, so here is an updated blog entry.

A month after my blog entry, Brittney Griner was arrested after illegally bringing hash oil into the country. This high-profile arrest brought arbitrary enforcement into the spotlight. She was a celebrity and checked too many protected class boxes for the U.S. government to leave her in prison, unlike the existing incarcerated U.S. citizens. She was freed via a prisoner exchange with the USA, along with Trevor Reed, who had already been in prison for three years. Unfortunately, U.S. citizen Paul Whelan remains in prison.

This has led to a lot of soul searching about how to free what are effectively hostages held by foreign governments. While prisoner exchange has freed some hostages, it clearly fuels further hostage taking. One counter-weight to this is a new U.S. state department designation of countries that use arbitrary enforcement of local laws to imprison U.S. citizens. These designations will clearly reduce tourism and business travel to such countries, so time will tell if such negatives are more powerful than the value of hostages, but the USA is clearly taking this problem more seriously. Even the United Nations is getting involved. Additional U.S. citizens continue to be arrested, and China is now also using arbitrary enforcement. The current country list is:

  • China
  • Iran
  • Myanmar
  • North Korea
  • Russia
  • Venezuela

This paper goes into many of the details of state hostage-taking.

Update: a new person incarcerated in Russia 2024-02-20

Update: Report on Russia 2024-03-29

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Community Hamas's Antisemitic Influence Is Even Bigger than the Nazis

Friday, January 12, 2024

It is a bold statement to say that someone today is creating more antisemitism than the Nazis, but this article states it, and I think it is accurate. The Nazis' antisemitism was mostly restricted to Germany and the territories they occupied. Thanks to today's increased communication, and the inferior position of the Palestinians compared to the Israeli's, which garners sympathy, antisemitism has exploded around the world.

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Community It's Time to Drop the 'LGBT' From 'LGBTQ'

Wednesday, January 10, 2024

This powerful article explains that trying to list individual sexual orientation groups into the label used for non-traditional sexual orientation undermines the goal of rights for all non-traditional sexual orientation groups. This paragraph states it well:

Once activists started listing identities and groups, they realized that anyone not specifically included might feel specifically excluded. Their solution has been to keep expanding the list. But no matter how many letters are added, one group is still pointedly excluded: the cisgender heterosexuals who make up the vast majority of the U.S. population. Not surprisingly, many members of that group resent civil-rights claims that are presented as a succession of carve-outs for minorities, to the benefit of everyone except themselves. Imagine if the religious-liberty movement instead styled itself the CJMHBSBA+ (Catholic-Jewish-Muslim-Hindu-Buddhist-Sikh-Baha'i-Animist-plus) movement. The symbolism ceases to be about equality for all Americans and becomes instead about naming particularistic claimants. And the very act of asking ordinary Americans to drag themselves through a list of initials is redolent of special rights, not equal rights.

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Community The Woke War Against African Americans

Monday, January 8, 2024

I previously wrote that policing policy changes, nominally to improve the lives of African Americans, have done the opposite. This article argues that this trend is continuing in other policy areas as well.

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Arts Sinatra's Homes

Friday, January 5, 2024

Frank Sinatra was always larger than life. Since it has been 25 years since his death, I wondered if there was new information about him, particularly his homes. These articles (1, 2) explore the many houses Sinatra lived in during his lifetime. There are also some good detailed articles about individual houses:

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Arts Ikiru

Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Akira Kurosawa was one of the great movie directors. Seven Samurai, his most famous film, spawned several new movie genres.

A less popular but similarly powerful movie of his is Ikiru. Released in 1952, the movie follows the life of a civil servant who finds the meaning of life only after being diagnosed with a fatal illness. The most iconic image from the movie is Ikiru (the protagonist) on a swing set in the snow. A more powerful scene is Ikiru singing a sentimental song at a night club; you can view the scene at the bottom of this web page. The heart-felt nature of the song is palpable. There are also some good video commentaries about the movie (1, 2, 3, 4).

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