Author Archives: Michael Kleen

CNN’s Trump Twitter Obsession

There’s no question Donald Trump has used controversial statements to build a powerful social media following. His Twitter account in particular has attracted much consternation and hang-wringing, particularly among media outlets like CNN and the New York Times. Reporters love Twitter because it allows them to write news stories without ever leaving the office. Water cooler controversy over the latest tweet fuels link clicks and website visits, attracting coveted web traffic that drives advertising sales.

It started during the presidential primary, when CNN in particular salivated over now-President Trump’s social media faux pas. I imagined a CNN reporter exclusively monitoring @realDonaldTrump, waiting to pounce on any misspelling or provocative statement. Within minutes of a controversial tweet, an article popped up at CNN.com. “Ah HAH! THIS is the tweet that will finally undo Trump’s candidacy!” the reporter shouts, rubbing his hands. I wondered how much this guy got paid.

Fast forward to February 2017. Trump won the election and is now in the White House. The outrage continues. Admittedly, I follow both @realDonaldTrump and @CNN, and I’m amused when I see a tweet from Trump immediately followed by a tweet from CNN telling me what he just said. For people who are so outraged by his public pronouncements, they sure love spreading them far and wide.

TrumpTweets

Read the rest of this entry

All-American Diner Tour: Doo-Wah Ditty’s in Kimball, South Dakota

At the tail end of March 2014, a friend and I decided to drive out to the Badlands, Mount Rushmore, and Devil’s Tower. It was springtime in the Midwest, and thoughts of winter storms were long behind us. About ninety minutes west of Sioux Falls along Interstate 90, however, the temperature began to drop, the wind picked up, and dark clouds formed ominously on the horizon.

Apparently we had driven into “Winter Storm Xenia,” which hit parts of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, and northeast Wyoming. There were 5-6 foot snow drifts in Roseau, Minn and wind gusts of up to 64 mph in Rapid City.

We decided to stop for gas and check the weather at the Conoco gas station off Highway 16 near the tiny town of Kimball, South Dakota. “Real Food,” a large sign announced as we pulled off the interstate. The sign referred to Doo-Wah Ditty’s Diner, located inside the gas station.

Read the rest of this entry

Is Starship Troopers a Satire of Fascism?

starship_troopers_-_movie_posterThe terms fascist and fascism get thrown around a lot, but rarely with accuracy. The science fiction novel Starship Troopers (1959) by Robert A. Heinlein, and the 1997 movie of the same name, are alternatively accused of promoting or lampooning fascism. Starship Troopers isn’t my favorite film, but I think it’s entertaining and original enough to rewatch every now and then. I just watched it last week, when to my surprise, RedLetterMedia featured it over the weekend in an episode of “re:View.” Watch the full episode here.

In their review, Mike and Jay take the position that Starship Troopers is a satire of fascism, and that audiences largely missed the point when the movie was released in 1997. There’s some evidence for this. The director, Paul Verhoeven, definitely interpreted Heinlein’s novel in this way. At one point, characters are wearing uniforms obviously inspired by the Nazi Gestapo. Violence is shown as the only solution, and militarism and war are at the center of this futuristic society. Characters consider the alien arachnids to be ugly, mindless, and inferior to humans. They are confined to a “Quarantine Zone,” like the Nazi ghettos.

Mike and Jay argue Starship Troopers inverts a common character arch in which a character living in an oppressive society comes to rebel against that society. Instead, in Starship Troopers, characters who originally question the social order, or who are at least indifferent to it, end up embracing it. Characters become less human as the film progresses, until, at the end, they cheer when it’s revealed a captured arachnid feels fear, an emotion that typically elicits sympathy.

starshiptroopersVerhoeven himself said his movie adaptation is “playing with fascism or fascist imagery to point out certain aspects of American society… of course, the movie is about ‘Let’s all go to war and let’s all die.'” He copied some propaganda scenes directly from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935).

But is the Terran Federation depicted in Starship Troopers a fascist society? Despite the fascist ascetic in the film, it just doesn’t measure up. Benito Mussolini defined fascism as a merger of corporations and the state. Fascism is more generally characterized by a cult of personality, extreme nationalism, veneration of past glory, militarism, racial superiority, and authoritarianism.

Well, Starship Troopers certainly portrays a militaristic society, but that is where the comparison ends.

Read the rest of this entry

Hochelaga Inn’s Lady in Black

This charming 21-room French Victorian Mansion is located at 24 Sydenham Street in the historic Sydenham District, just a few blocks from Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. It operates year-round as an upscale bed and breakfast. Guests come for more than relaxing evenings, however. The Hochelaga Inn is widely believed to be haunted by several ghosts, including a woman in black and a spectral child.

John and Harriet McIntyre built this home in 1879. Harriet was a relative of Sir John Alexander Macdonald. Macdonald, renowned for his drinking and public corruption, was the first Prime Minister of Canada. After John McIntyre died, the Hochelaga Foundation, a branch of the Bank of Montreal, purchased the inn to house its traveling employees. The stables were located behind the mansion, where the carports are today.

Read the rest of this entry

Hearts of Iron IV Minor Nation Strategies: Romania

screenshot-151Welcome to the latest in a series of posts looking at minor countries in the game Hearts of Iron IV by Paradox Entertainment. Hearts of Iron IV is an epic historical simulator that allows you to experience the Second World War as any country, and perhaps, change history. These articles examine the benefits and drawbacks of playing as any of dozens of minor countries in HOI IV. This week I’ll be looking at Romania.

After WW1, Romania received the territories of Transylvania (1920), Bukovina (1919), and Bessarabia (1920), doubling its size. Transylvania in particular was a bone of contention between Hungary and Romania. Prior to joining Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union, Romania lost territory to Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Soviet Union through German arbitration. Romania contributed over 1.2 million men to Operation Barbarossa, but switched sides in 1944 and joined the Allies. It became a Soviet puppet after the war. Can you steer Romania toward a different fate?

Romania begins the game in 1936 as a non-aligned democracy led by Armand Calinescu. It has the national spirit Neutral Foreign Policy, which inflicts the following penalties: Join faction tension limit: +100%, Send volunteers tension limit: +20%, Guarantee tension limit: +100%, AI Modifier: Threat receptivity: +1%, AI Modifier: Desire to be in or expand a faction: −100. It has a volunteer army, export trade focus, and civilian economy.

The next election will be held in December 1937. The fascist party, led by Ion Antonescu, has 18% popularity, the democratic party, led by Armand Calinescu, has 20%, the communist party, led by Constantin Ion Parhon, has 2% support, and the nonaligned party, led by Gheorghe Tatarescu, has 60% support.

Read the rest of this entry

A Social History of Truth

a-social-history-of-truthIn A Social History of Truth: Civility and Science in Seventeenth-Century England, Steven Shapin tries to answer the question, why do we believe something is true? He argues there is a disconnect between how we think knowledge is obtained and how it is actually obtained. Like scientists today, men of learning in the seventeenth century believed direct experience was the only way to obtain factual knowledge, and they rejected the “testimony of others.” However, Shapin argues testimony and authority are the very foundations of knowledge.

Trust, a necessary ingredient for working with others, is indispensable in science. Scientists use trust to sustain the structures that allow them to maintain and build on the body of knowledge they have acquired over the centuries. This social interaction, Shapin argued, contains assumed knowledge about the external world and who is trustworthy in that world. “The identification of trustworthy agents is necessary to the constitution of any body of knowledge.”

What kind of person do we trust to tell the truth? According to Shapin, it is the early modern English gentleman. A gentleman was a person who, because he was self-sufficient and free from economic burden, had no motivation to lie. Therefore, he had both the qualities of free action and virtue. The gentleman was culturally encouraged not to deceive. Virtue was enforced by the ever-present threat of loss of his status as a gentleman, which had far reaching social and political consequences.

Read the rest of this entry