Ivan Chonkin

October 23, 2018

ivan chonkin

Ivan Chonkin is the hero of a trilogy of satirical novels by Vladimir Voinovich, of which I’ve read the first two, The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, and The Pretender to the Throne:  The Further Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin.

The image above shows a still from a film version of the the first novel in which Ivan, an archetypal everyman who is not too sharp, is sent by his army superiors to guard a Soviet plane that has crash landed in a rural boondocks.  He is forgotten in the disaster of the opening weeks of Hitler’s invasion of the USSR, but dutifully performs his mission, while taking up romantically with a single woman near whose cottage the plane is kept.  Through bureaucratic confusion and a lot of Soviet-style self-serving malice, he gets classified as a deserter, and a squad is sent to fetch him for trial.  He refuses to relinquish his post, fights off the troops for some time, but is eventually arrested and taken away by The Right People (the NKVD, or secret police) to the Right Place (the local prison where enemies of the state are interrogated.)

In the second book, during the “investigation” into his crimes, he is somehow connected with an aristocratic emigre family and an array of totally fictitious German spies.  The NKVD puts him on trial for conspiring with the Germans in a plot to collaborate with the invasion in return for his restoration to the Tsar’s throne!  During part of his interrogation, after being beaten and tortured for a while, we have this bit of wonderful dialog that is Voinovich at his best:

Chonkin’s torments ended when Major Figurin took charge of the case again.  Having examined the situation, Figurin had Chonkin fed and brought tea, treated him to long cigarettes, which made Chonkin sweetly dizzy, and spoke to him nicely, man to man:  “Unfortunately, Vanya, not all our workers are saints.  It’s the work they do.  Sometimes it makes you cruel without your knowing it.  And besides, the people who end up here do not always evaluate things soberly, they don’t always have a correct sense of what is demanded of them.  Let’s say we bring in a man and we say to him, ‘You are our enemy.’  He doesn’t agree, he objects, ‘No, I’m not.’  But how could that be?  If we arrest a man, naturally he hates us.  And if, on top of that, he considers himself innocent, then he hates us twice as much, three times as much.  And if he hates us, that means he’s our enemy and that means he’s guilty.  And so, Vanya, that’s why I personally consider innocent people our worst enemies.”

Vladimir Voinovich wrote these novels in the late 60s and the 70s, and he was forced into exile from the USSR in 1980.  He eventually returned to Russia when Gorbachev restored his citizenship in 1990.  He continued to act as a dissident under Putin until his death this year.

VV

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Flatrock Moving Water

October 22, 2018

‘These images were taken today with three different pin hole cameras in Flatrock Nature Preserve, in Englewood, NJ.  This is just on the backside of the Hudson River Palisades, i.e., just to the west of those cliffs.  Each image was exposed for approximately fifty minutes during cloudy weather, and I manipulated them in GIMP, adding a bit of sepia toning.

This first image was taken with a coffee can camera, which produces a distorted perspective, although in this setting, it is not so pronounced:  No straight lines in nature!

Flatrock 1Sep

This image was taken with a box pin hole camera set about two feet above the water surface on a rock.Flatrock 2Sep

The last image, below, was done with a box pin hole and a tripod set up.

Flatrock 3Sep


A Scar Is Born

October 18, 2018

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About 45 days after the accidental cut, only a thin scar to add to the many I have on my fingertips. Here we go in chonological order! 🙂


NYC Subway Time

October 11, 2018

With all the talk in the City about the poor and overcrowded state of the subways, I thought it would be a nice time to revisit this video of mine – 40 years old! – made as an homage to the trains.  It is followed by a clip paying homage to 2001 which uses some of the same visual themes.

I made the piece during a summer class in video at NYU.  The camera was about the size of a very large dictionary, and the the recording mechanism was slung over your shoulder and weighed a ton!  I converted the video from 3/4″ tape to DVD several years ago at a video restoration lab in San Francisco.

The late sequence of the train moving through the tunnel as the Saint-Saëns music builds to a climax links the piece to the following bit inspired by 2001 and my night driving on the NJ turnpike.  I have always been a time-space traveler! 🙂

These videos, and others I have made, are available on my MUNDO VIDEO!! page at this blog.


That Precautionary Principle

October 10, 2018

football

Long ago, when it was still acceptable to voice doubts about computer projections of the climate apocalypse, people often answered critics who mentioned the uncertainty in the predictions by citing “The Precautionary Principle.”  This self-evident axiom of risk management means that if the consequences of a low-risk, uncertain event are so catastrophically awful, we are prudent to act as though the event will happen.  So, even if the predictions about climate change are not very certain, the impacts on us if they turn out to be true are so horrific, we might as well not argue, and just assume that they are correct.  Case closed.

When I first began to track the issues related to climate change more than twenty-five years ago, that was pretty much my point of view, but after a lot of thought, discussion, and experiences at conferences, I have modified my view to one of rather harsh skepticism.  I’m not going to discuss that process here:  I just want to dispose of this supposedly common sense precautionary principle (PP).

First, a little story:  My sister has an old friend that she has known for many years who suffered significant brain damage a long time ago when he fell and struck his head.  He is severely impaired these days, as though he had been the victim of a stroke.  He was quite robust and healthy when it happened; he just slipped on the ice one winter and banged his skull.  A fluke accident with terrible consequences.  Could happen to anyone, right?

Now, this sad event the befell my sister’s friend was forseeable.  After all, everyone knows that you can slip and fall on the ice, and many of us have done it, although with consequences that ranged more towards embarrassment than disability…but it could happen to us, even if we are not old and frail.  It happened to my sister’s friend!  The chances are not zero.  If you do research on it, you might find that they are not even considered trivial, so this is my question.  Given that the consequences of this accident, with a probability notably above zero, are so life-shattering, why don’t we all walk around wearing football helmets in the winter when there is ice on the ground?  It would seem to be a perfect and unassailable application of the precautionary principle.

The reason that we don’t wear helmets is that we all make our own calculations, knowingly or not, and assume that the risk is so vanishingly small that we need not worry about such a “fluke” happening to us.  We are totally unpersuaded by the logic of the PP.  Some people are so foolish as to never wear seat belts despite the much stronger statistical evidence in their favor.  We might think those people are nuts, but still not don the helmet in icy weather.

In the end, we are left with nothing but data, and our judgment about how powerful a case it makes for taking action.  The PP is simply a way of trying to shut down consideration of the data and the possible courses of action by asserting that only one alternative is possible and logical, but in practice, nobody reasons that way when they actually have to make a choice.


Mad Science/Journalism Experiment

October 10, 2018

madexperimenter

In the wake of the new IPCC special report, the NYTimes declared (emphasis added) in its editorial today:

…the world must utterly transform its energy systems in the next decade or risk ecological and social disaster, attention must be paid….

The panel said a mammoth effort is needed, beginning now and carrying through the century, to decarbonize global energy systems. The next 10 years are absolutely crucial: Emissions will have to be on a sharp downward path by 2030 for any hope of success. Greenhouse gases must be cut nearly in half from 2010 levels. Renewable energy sources must increase from about 20 percent of the electricity mix today to as much as 67 percent. The use of coal would need to be phased out, vanishing almost entirely by midcentury.

Okay, so there we have it.  A clear and stunning prediction of doom, the End Times of the Climate Apocalypse are nigh!  2030 is not so far off, and a very large proportion of the readers of this post (all three of you!) are likely to be around then to test the propositions pronounced in the editorial.

My prediction is that in before 2030, if people are still excited about this issue, we will see articles about how new studies have put off the day of reckoning to 2040 or 2050, the standard moving the goalposts routine.  Or, they may declare that the delay of crisis is due to the heroic (unspecified) reductions in GHG accomplished as a result of their indomitable advocacy.  If I am wrong, I won’t be happy!  😦


We call it a democracy…

October 9, 2018

The little data graphic below shows what we all know:  a little over half the people voted in 2016, and of those that did, the plurality voted for Clinton.

tunout.jpg

Now our elected (?) president has been able to appoint two justices to the Supreme Court, on which they serve for life.  Maybe that made sense in the 18th century when a judge granted a life seat might be expected to stick around for ten, fifteen, perhaps twenty years, but today..?  In the most recent case, the population represented by the senators who voted for or against Kavanaugh shakes out as shown below – a clear majority of the population was represented by the senators who voted against him.  (In cases of states where the vote was split, I calculated a 50/50 split of the population for each side.)

senate vote

So now we have a president elected by a minority of the population (that voted!) appointing a justice who is confirmed by a clear minority of the represented population, and who can join with his other coreligionist reactionaries to rule on the rights of all of us, as codified in the sacred words written over 200 years ago when, you know, slavery was okay, women didn’t vote, there was no electricity, and not even any TV!