The Eclectic Quill

Website of Joshua McGee

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Helen Keller on Education and Tolerance

"The highest result of education is tolerance. Long ago men fought and died for their faith; but it took ages to teach them the other kind of courage, — the courage to recognize the faiths of their brethren and their rights of conscience." — Helen Keller

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Rising (to change this world) with Alter Bridge at The Wiltern

The Alter Bridge concert last night was, I think, the best rock concert I have ever attended.  They were in peak form and The Wiltern is a fantastic, intimate venue.

They played Cry of Achilles, which was a surprise: it's a really difficult song to pull off live.

They played Blackbird and Ghost of Days Gone By, both of which are favorites.

They put the slowly-building and apocalyptic Slip to the Void into the setlist, for the first time in ages.  In a previous tour, they had begun concerts with it.  It's even more unsettling just inserted into the middle of a show.

And they played their first single (from 2004), Open Your Eyes, which I think was part of a larger narrative they were telling with the setlist: a narrative that begins with the first song of the night being the anti-Trump tirade The Writing on the Wall, released at the end of 2016:

Don't tell us this is normal
Don't tell us there's no change
So selfish and immoral, you're to blame
For you're the great disrupter
So crass and out of line
Now tell me: who will suffer for all your crimes?
We are running out of time

There was a strong anti-Trump subplot through the whole show.  I am sure they dropped in the rare Open Your Eyes for this stanza, because of how Myles stressed the vocals:

It's hard to walk this path alone
Hard to know which way to go
Will I ever save this day?
Will they ever change?
Will they open their eyes, and realize we are one?

At one point, Mark sang lead on one of the two songs he sings for the band, Waters Rising.  It contains a stanza that has always resonated with me:

This is the season we tear our rivals down
This circle of tyrants will end us all right now
The earth has provided the means to burn it down
Well, don’t you see it now? Don’t you see it now?

But Mark turned the last line into a plea, in a way he's never done before: with anguish, he sang "Well, don't you see it now?  Don't you see it NOW?!"

And instead of closing out the show with The Last Hero (which I expected, given that it's the title track of their most recent album and this is their "Last Hero Tour"), they closed with Rise Today.  At the end, Myles led everyone in a chorus of repeating lines, letting the audience sing the lyrics:

Yeah, oh yeah, I'm gonna rise today and change this world!

Over and over we sang that line, and the subplot was complete.  Everyone felt motivated to rise.  Everyone felt motivated to change the world.

It was masterful and beautiful and I'm so glad we went.

Here is a bonus video that I took from my seat at the theater:


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On Values and Buddy-Cop Movies

I watched a TED Talk last night in which the presenter wanted to lecture about healing the political divisions in the United States.  Because he was a "film buff", he said, he was trying to think of what film genre the current political climate would be.  A lot of people see it as a "zombie apocalypse" movie, he said.  But to each person imagining this, the other side was the horde of zombies, and he was Brad Pitt.  Who's to say, he asked, that their perception is any less valid than yours?

He wanted to tell the audience about experiments he and his colleagues had performed with "Moral Reframing": liberal values include things like fairness, equality, and compassion, while conservative values include things like patriotism, respect for authority, and moral purity.  He and his colleagues wanted to expose each side of the argument to the other side's values, and through his moral reframing, it would no longer be a zombie apocalypse movie.  It would instead be a "buddy-cop" movie.  "You know the kind," he said.  There might be a white cop and a black cop, or a messy cop and a fastidious cop, and they always drift furthest apart at the end of the second act.  Maybe we are about to enter the third act, when they work together.

All good, solid points, sir.

Wait, sorry.  I meant "you are peddling absolute fucking bullshit".

First, you need to step back and take a good, hard look at what you mean by "moral value".  I'm not going to let you dust off your freshman year moral relativism essay and treat it as inspiration because they gave you a hands-free mic.  Look at what you have just contrasted.  The "liberal values" of fairness, equality, and compassion mean "I don't think I deserve benefits that you don't receive", "I don't think I'm more special than you",  and "I don't want to see you suffer".  The "conservative values" of moral purity, respect for authority, and patriotism mean "I'm more special than you", "you are more special than me", and "we are more special than all the rest of you".

You cannot just apply a label to two opposing concepts and say that they exemplify the same thing.  Just because someone values something does not make that thing worthy of the appellation "value".  A heroin addict puts a great deal of value in the heroin he injects into his arm.  That does not mean that heroin use is "a value": not to the individual, not to society, and not as something that should be doctrine for children.  The country on the planet that has perfected the veneration of moral purity, respect for authority, and patriotism is North Korea.  What you list as "conservative values" are indistinguishable from Kim Jong-un's values.

Second, let's buy into your "we're at the end of the second act of a buddy-cop movie" analogy for a moment.  Do you recognize how the hack screenwriters carry the viewer into the third act?  How they get the divergent pair to reconcile?  The writers introduce an external threat that poses such a risk to our oil-and-vinegar pairing that they have to join forces in order to defeat that which is other.  If you are comparing our current political climate to the end of the second act of a buddy-cop movie, and hoping that we are about to move into the third, you are asking that someone or something comes onscreen that is so vile and dangerous that it would disgust both liberals and conservatives sufficiently that we would be compelled to join forces to defeat it.  You are specifically requesting an enemy more powerful than your current enemy so that you can be a frenemy to your present enemy.  This is what you hope will save us?

Third — and most importantly for your own safety — do not tell a conservative that he is Brad Pitt in the movie version of his life.  He will take those for fighting words.

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Sorry, Snopes: Hitler did say he would make Germany great again

This is an excerpt from a syndicated 1934 U.S. news article.  This scan, specifically, is from the January 4, 1934 issue of the Green Bay Press-Gazette, retrieved from archive site Newspapers.com.

Adolf Hitler specifically said he would make Germany great again

Randall Munroe (xkcd.com) tipped off Matt Novak (Gizmodo.com) that this article existed, and Novak wrote it up, so if you were wondering whether Internet publishers can actually add value to discussions about critical issues, ask yourself:  "Have I seen this discussed or reprinted anywhere else?"

As of this writing, the Snopes page for this claim tags it as "mostly false".

Read Novak's full post here.

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Measuring the diameter of a circle in ImageMagick

If you have an image (or crop of an image) that contains just a circle against a solid background of a contrasting color, you can measure its diameter with the ImageMagick command line tools.

Let's generate an image to test it:

convert -size 400x400 xc:skyblue -fill white -stroke black -draw "circle 260,220 280,340" circle.png

That generates this image:

What are the dimensions of that circle?  Run this command:

convert circle.png +repage -fuzz 5% -trim +repage - | identify -format '# %wx%h\n' -

You get this output:

# 245x245

If the numbers on the sides of the x are not within 1px of one another, change the value of fuzz, marked in blue in the code above.  If it is a lossless image format such as PNG or GIF, make it 0%.  If it's a JPEG, try increasing it.  Once they are within one pixel, you have identified the circle's diameter: in this case, 245 pixels.

That is because, internally, you have created this trimmed image: