Welcome to the Sabbath for Christian cats: Sunday, July 23, 2023, and a bland day, too, since it’s National Vanilla Ice Cream Day, celebrating a food that is, like pancakes, best topped with other stuff:
It’s also National Pecan Sandies Day (an okay but not great cookie), SAT Math Day (a vanishing test), National Pink Day (just in time for the Barbie movie), Pink Flamingo Day (ditto), United Nations Public Service Day, and National Hydration Day.
Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the July 23 Wikipedia page.
*Over at the NYT, columnist Michelle Goldberg discusses the UK “disaster that nobody wants to talk about.” Can you guess what it is?
There’s a growing understanding in Britain that the country’s vote to quit the European Union, a decisive moment in the international rise of reactionary populism, was a grave error.
Just as critics predicted, Brexit has led to inflation, labor shortages, business closures and travel snafus. It has created supply chain problems that put the future of British car manufacturing in danger. Brexit has, in many cases, turned travel between Europe and the U.K. into a punishing ordeal, as I learned recently, spending hours in a chaotic passport control line when taking the train from Paris to London. British musicians are finding it hard to tour in Europe because of the costs and red tape associated with moving both people and equipment across borders, which Elton John called “crucifying.”
According to the U.K.’s Office for Budget and Responsibility, leaving the E.U. has shaved 4 percent off Britain’s gross domestic product. The damage to Britain’s economy, the O.B.R.’s chairman has said, is of the same “magnitude” as that from the Covid pandemic.
All this pain and hassle has created an anti-Brexit majority in Britain. According to a YouGov poll released this week, 57 percent of Britons say the country was wrong to vote to leave the E.U., and a slight majority wants to rejoin it. Even Nigel Farage, the former leader of the far-right U.K. Independence Party sometimes known as “Mr. Brexit,” told the BBC in May, “Brexit has failed.”
Still, he argues that without facing the harm that Brexit has caused, the country can’t move forward: “Unless you can diagnose what the problem is, how can there be a prognosis?” Britain is not, at least in the near term, going to rejoin the E.U. But both Khan and Ellwood argue that it can still forge closer trade and immigration ties than it has now, and perhaps eventually return to the European single market, the trade agreement encompassing the E.U. countries, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein.
One silver lining to Brexit is that it offers a cautionary tale for the rest of Europe. After Britain voted to leave the E.U. in 2016, there’s been fear, among some who care about the European project, that France or Italy could be next. But as The Guardian reported, as of January, support for leaving the E.U. has declined in every member state for which data is available.
I’m afraid that the UK screwed up badly, and now it’s too late to fix it. Every one of my British friends saw this happening, but, as Beethoven said when they delivered to him a case of Rhine wine on his deathbed, “Pity, pity. . . too late.”
*You might have heard that, at the orders of Governor Greg Abbott, Texas built a floating barrier made of buoys in the middle of the Rio Grande River, a barrier designed to prevent immigrants from Mexico crossing the river. Here’s what it looks like:
The Justice Department told Texas Thursday that it intends to file legal action against the placement of floating barriers in the Rio Grande as part of the state’s operation along the Texas-Mexico border, according to sources familiar and a letter obtained by CNN.
The Justice Department sent the letter to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott Thursday, according to the letter, though there is time for the state to respond.
“The State of Texas’s actions violate federal law, raise humanitarian concerns, present serious risks to public safety and the environment, and may interfere with the federal government’s ability to carry out its official duties,” the letter stated, citing a clause in the law that “prohibits the creation of any obstruction to the navigable capacity of waters of the United States, and further prohibits building any structure in such waters without authorization from the United States Army Corps of Engineers (“Corps”).”
This is separate from the ongoing assessment of mistreatment of migrants, which the Justice Department described as “troubling reports.”
“Texas has the sovereign authority to defend our border, under the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution,” Abbott said on Twitter. “We have sent the Biden Administration numerous letters detailing our authority, including the one I hand-delivered to President Biden earlier this year.”
. . .The news comes as more than 80 Democratic US lawmakers sent a letter to President Joe Biden Friday urging him to investigate Abbott’s “dangerous and cruel actions” on the southern border after a Texas state trooper blew the whistle regarding alleged inhumane treatment of migrants and Mexico’s top diplomat complained to Washington about Texas breaking two international treaties.
“We write to express our profound alarm over border policies instituted by Texas Governor Greg Abbott that are putting asylum-seekers at serious risk of injury and death, interfering with federal immigration enforcement, infringing on private property rights, and violating U.S. treaty commitments with Mexico,” the letter states.
I too oppose this unilateral move by Texas, but have to add that people seeking legal asylum shouldn’t be trying to cross the Rio Grade. It’s dangerous, too: I once swam the Rio Grande to Mexico when visiting Big Bend National Park, just to say I’d swum to Mexico (there were huge cliffs on the Mexican side that prevented surreptitious immigration, but the current was so swift that I had a lot of trouble swimming back and feared I’d drown.
*From the WaPo, which raises a very serious issue: “Ukraine is now the world’s most mined country. It will take decades to make it safe.”
In a year and a half of conflict, land mines — along with unexploded bombs, artillery shells and other deadly byproducts of war — have contaminated a swath of Ukraine roughly the size of Florida or Uruguay. It has become the world’s most mined country.
Efforts to clear the hazards, known as unexploded ordnance, along with those to measure the full extent of the problem, can only proceed so far given that the conflict is still underway. But data collected by Ukraine’s government and independent humanitarian mine clearance groups tells a stark story.
“The sheer quantity of ordnance in Ukraine is just unprecedented in the last 30 years. There’s nothing like it,” said Greg Crowther, the director of programs for the Mines Advisory Group, a British charity that works to clear mines and unexploded ordnance internationally.
And that’s all ye need to know. If the war ever is settled, we’ll hear sporadically about Ukrainian civilians getting blown up by walking on unexploded mines. (Remember that live mines was Princess Diana’s big issue.)
*More depressing news from the WSJ: “Biden goes all in on Bidenomics. Voters aren’t buying it.”
“It’s not an accident, it’s my economic plan in action,” Biden told a crowd of mostly union workers Thursday at the latest stop on his nationwide record-burnishing tour. “Together, we’re transforming the country.”
But many voters aren’t buying it. They say they haven’t felt the impact of legislation that’s the centerpiece of Biden’s campaign, and they cite what may be his main albatross—inflation. High prices have turned economic issues that could’ve been a tailwind for his re-election into a headwind.
. . .That hesitation about Biden’s age and record explains why the incumbent is essentially tied in most polls with Trump, who remains unpopular and faces multiple criminal indictments, and why some Democrats worry a third-party ticket could attract enough swing votes to tip the election to the GOP.
Recent polls also show a disconnect between a buoyant labor market, which added 1.67 million jobs this year through June, and how voters feel about the economy. Robust consumer spending, inflation declining from a peak of 9.1% in June 2022 to 3% a year later and a stabilizing housing market have done little to move public perception on an issue that often ranks as a top priority for Americans at the ballot box.
Polls show that Biden get low ratings for his handling of economic issues, which matches his ever-slipping ratings overall. Here’s the WSJ’s chart of his approval ratings since he took office. OY! Make no mistake about it: if he’s the candidate I’ll vote for him, but I won’t be elated the way I was voting for Obama. Yes, Buden’s done a good job, but he’s losing it, and visibly so.
*The Screen Actors’ Guild and the Writer’s Guild of America are on strike, so nothing’s getting done insofar as new television shows or movies being made. One of the big issues at stake is AI. What’s going on with that? The AP tells you “what you need to know”.
As the technology to create without creators emerges, star actors fear they will lose control of their lucrative likenesses. Unknown actors fear they’ll be replaced altogether. Writers fear they’ll have to share credit or lose credit to machines.
The proposed contracts that led to both strikes last only three years. Even at the seeming breakneck pace at which AI is moving, it’s very unlikely there would be any widespread displacement of writers or actors in that time. But unions and employers know that ground given on an issue in one contract can be hard to reclaim in the next.
Emerging versions of the tech have already filtered into nearly every part of filmmaking, used to de-age actors like Harrison Ford in the latest “Indiana Jones” film or Mark Hamill in “The Mandalorian,” to generate the abstracted animated images of Samuel L. Jackson and a swirl of several aliens in the intro to “Secret Invasion” on Disney+, and to give recommendations on Netflix.
All sides in the strikes acknowledge that use of the technology even more broadly is inevitable. That’s why all are looking now to establish legal and creative control.
The thing is that the technology moves so fast we have NO idea how it will be used in movies and television in three years, and it’s hard to negotiate about issues that you can’t even envision.
Meanwhile in Dobrzyn, Hili once again feels neglected (she’s sitting on the outside windowsill and wants to be carried in; yes, you can’t just open the window, but have to go out and GET HER and carry her inside!
Hili: I’m looking at you and I can’t understand.A: Understand what?Hili: How long can you ignore me?
Hili: Patrzę na ciebie i nie mogę zrozumieć.Ja: Czego?Hili: Jak długo możesz mnie ignorować?
From Anna: a “make way for ducklings” sign she saw in the Netherlands. A rough translation is “Attention! Duck crossing”:
A groaner from Nicole:
A tweet from Masih. The Farsi translation is this:
Mersedeh, a young woman who lost one of her eyes when shot by the oppressors’ shotguns, says, She does not regret going to the street even for a moment because she had a purpose for going. She now considers her lost eye a “badge of honor” for herself. #Freedom_Life_Woman
مرسده، زن جوانی که با شلیک اسلحه ساچمهای سرکوبگران یکی از چشمان خود را از دست داد میگوید،
— Masih Alinejad 🏳️ (@AlinejadMasih) July 21, 2023
From Ricky Gervais, who’s right:
I know that the world seems a bit mental at the moment, but I’m optimistic that it will all turn out ok when humanity is wiped out ❤️ pic.twitter.com/BhMYe0WOkE
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) July 20, 2023
From Simon, with an explanation below:
Oppenheimer is sure to revive some debates about the end of WWII. Worth noting: Purple Heart medals awarded in Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf, War on Terror—all 370,000 since 1945—were manufactured for the anticipated invasion of Japan. We have 120,000 remaining. pic.twitter.com/JjKJ98IGxH
— Chris DeRose (@chrisderose) July 21, 2023
It seems like they estimated the number of Purple Hearts that would be needed for an invasion of Japan in 1945, and went ahead and made a half million or so in preparation (estimate of deaths and injuries, since that’s what you get the medal for). Since Japan never got invaded they’ve been using up that stockpile and have given out 370k in the wars since and still have 120k on hand.Really it’s a comment on whether Oppenheimer saved or destroyed lives.You can see a summary here. However, the numbers are slightly off as the total for Vietnam and Korea was around 370,000 and there have subsequently been about 40k more awarded (mostly Iraq and Afghanistan).
People are such sheep! These ones are letting themselves be DE-LINTED!
In case you’re wondering who‘s arguing with you on the internet… here’s a video of people walking into a building and being “scanned” with a lint roller by a man who is not a security guard, no questions asked. pic.twitter.com/lLL8vDhMRt
— Nicole Behnam (@NicoleBehnam) April 28, 2023
A retweet from the Auschwitz Memorial:
I retweet as many from the vital Auschwitz Memorial account as I can. This one gives pause for thought. Elly worked in my industry, a museum professional. No doubt loved history, enjoyed old objects in cases, info in archives, historic sites & 80 years ago or so we might have met https://t.co/gmHxBOnFpg
— Griffin Historical 🇪🇺🦦🦥 (@GriffHistorical) July 23, 2023
Tweets from Dr. Cobb. First, a groaner:
Sorry… let me try it this way: pic.twitter.com/7OgM8psv7n
— Moose Allain Ꙭ (@MooseAllain) July 23, 2021
And then an octopus mimicking a dangerous animal. But what animal? Matthew answers:
There’s your answer: a moray pic.twitter.com/LWwGO4ETcb
— Matthew Cobb (@matthewcobb) July 21, 2023
Deano also answers the question in song: