I've recently become obsessed with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The reason is simple: Bing
. Basically every article on this website is cataloged by Google
and I get a lot of people coming to this website via it. I get nothing but a trickle from Bing
, which now uses Bing
for its search engine, apparently because it wants to become even more irrelevant.
But the issue isn't even that so little traffic comes here via Bing
. I understand that few people use Microsoft's monstrosity that they have clearly spent more money on marketing than coding. The problem is that very few of the pages on Frankly Curious
are even in
holds over 3200 pages, which is about the number of pages on this site. (A couple of days ago, the Frankly Curious
blog posted its 3000th article.) Bing
has traditionally had less than 200.
This led me to create a Bing
account for webmaster tools, just like the one I have for Google
. And I learned about these things called sitemaps. These are XML pages that lay out all the pages that are on this website. Note: Google
didn't need the sitemap. It already did an excellent job of crawling Frankly Curious
. But there were some minor problems, and I've been doing some major PHP coding on the site to stop some of that. And I provided Google
with a sitemap yesterday, which it has already integrated half of.
I did the same thing for Bing
. How is it doing? I don't know. As usual, Microsoft just doesn't do things as well as Google
. I know that they got the sitemap and that they were able to parse it, but that's about it. Also, Bing
doesn't seem to collect any data about websites until you site up. So it's been two days and they can't tell me a damned thing about what activity is going on at Bing
regarding this here website.
Thus far this month, Google has directed 3,553 people to Frankly Curious
. In that same time, Bing
has directed 20. Not 20 thousand, of course; just 20. I'm hoping that in the coming months, now that I've spoon fed Bing
the contents of my site, this number might go up a bit. But maybe not. Microsoft is a conservative company and they may go along with the Republican belief that it is best to enrich the rich and impoverish the poor. In Microsoft's case, that seems to be especially so when a website isn't selling something.
Given I was involved with all this, I checked the library and was very excited to find SEO Search Engine Optimization Bible
by Jerri L. Ledford. I could hardly wait to get it. In fact, I called in a favor to get it that very day. The first thing I noticed about it was that it had a lot of filler. I so wanted to get to the point. And the book rarely did that. In total, I would say that the book has perhaps 10 pages of actual information. It is highly repetitive. And of those 10 pages of actual information, none of it was new to me.
Well, I'm perhaps being a bit unfair. Half the book, which I skimmed was not about SEO. It was about paying for advertising. In other words, this is a book for someone who plans to hire someone else to do all the work. Generally, when the word "bible" is used in the title of a computer book, it means that the book is long and detailed. In this case, I think it means that it is faith based.
In addition to everything else, it is hopelessly out of date. But I doubt that four years ago, it was really up on what was happening. The computer publishing business is very bad. O'Reilly
is kind of an exception, but even they have been putting out a lot of trash lately. Stay away from their more recent "cookbooks."
The book did get me to go looking at the online directories. You know, things like Yahoo!
I'm proud of Frankly Curious
and there is no doubt that I deserve to be in directories. So I spent some time looking around Yahoo!
and it was like a ghost town. I don't know who the editors are, but there were all kinds of sites that no longer existed. And even worse, there were sites that have become really vile commercial outfits (I was looking at the politics section). What's more, many of the blogs have stopped producing content years ago—2007, 2005. There was even Eric Alterman's blog at NBC
. He left there in 2005. What a great resource that is to the web community! The Open Directory Project
is better, but not much better. And all of the directories seem to be designed to confuse users more than anything else. It makes me want to become an editor for them. The main thing they all need is a little weeding. Well, a lot
Reddit apparently was not big enough at the time to make it into the book. But I'm really interested in all the new kinds of ways that I can get the word out on this site. Because, with the modest humility that I possess, I think Frankly Curious
is quite a good website. Visiting it is like visiting me. I mix things up, I generally have an interesting take on things, I don't belabor issues. I don't write long and technical term papers. I have a wry sense of humor. And I have the exact correct amount of outrage. Unlike my other website which gets double the total monthly traffic, this site has a surprisingly large dedicated community of readers who stop by every day. And I know there are more people out there who don't know about the site but who would enjoy it.
And you know what: I think it sucks that it's my
responsibility to find those people. The search engines do a lousy job of sending people to websites they will like. The thousand people who just come directly to the site each day don't mean anything to the search engines. Unless there is a link on another page coming to this site, or people clicking on website search engine result pages, Frankly Curious
might as well not exist. (Fun fact: the biggest search engine referral to this site is "marlene on the wall.)
So while I continue my attempts to alert the rest of the internet to the special place that is Frankly Curious
, be sure you tell all your friends. It can't last forever. My charm is limited.
Most likely there will be less posting today. I'm working on the technical side of the site. Some of it is going well, but other aspects are really frustrating. Also, I think I'm badly in need of a day off.
The great chemist Fritz Haber
was born on this day in 1868. Knowledge can be used for good or for ill. He invented the process for synthesizing ammonia, which is important to fertilizers and is why we are able to feed the billions of hungry people around the world. But ammonia is also used to build bombs. And he used chlorine and other gases to create the first modern chemical weapons used in World War I. So he is often referred to as the father of chemical weapons. We humans are a mixed bag.
Douglas Fairbanks Jr
was born in 1909. He was okay. I'm not a fan or anything. But I am rather fond of the racist but still very fun Gunga Din
The great Lee J Cobb
was born in 1911. He was the original Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman
. He also did a great job in On the Waterfront
. But it's his performance as Juror 3 in 12 Angry Men
that blows me away. Estranged from his son, he wants to convict out of his latent pain of his personal loss. The scene where he tears up his son's picture only to weep at the horror of the act is one of the greatest things I've ever seen in a movie. Here it is; watch it:
is 97 today. I've never been a huge fan of him as an actor. He's okay. But apart from his acting, he's been an impressive guy. In particular, he's not a bad writer. He's just a whole lot more interesting than the characters he played. I think most old people die out of boredom. There just isn't much that interests them anymore. Douglas has kept his life interesting and I have little doubt that helps him to carry on. But the clock is ticking. He has a maximum of 27 years left.
Singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading
is 63. I just love her song "The Weakness In Me." We cannot control ourselves, especially in love. It isn't rational. "I need to see you!"
Other birthdays: anarcho-communist philosopher Peter Kropotkin
(1842); Tip O'Neill
(1912); comedian Redd Foxx
(1922); actor Dick Van Patten
(85); comedy writer Buck Henry
(83); actor Judi Dench
(79); musician Junior Wells
(1998); actor Beau Bridges
(72); and kind of an asshole, actor John Malkovich
The day, however, belongs to the great filmmaker John Cassavetes
, who was born on this day in 1929. He was an actor of note, but I really don't care. He wrote and directed some of the greatest films of the 1960s and 1970s. Forget the French New Wave (which I think is over-rated, but interesting). Cassavetes did revolutionary work. I especially like Faces
, A Woman Under the Influence
, and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
. What's most important in his films is that people matter. Character is primary. And that's important in a media (even going back to theater) where character really doesn't matter. Characters are never pawns for the sake of Cassavetes' plots. All kinds of filmmakers followed his lead, but in their own ways. Nothing is quite like the work that he left. Here is a scene I've used before but it shows the power of his work:
Happy birthday John Cassavetes!
Perhaps the stupidest sentence in the English language is this:
I didn't come here to lose!
The last time I heard it was when I was over at a friend's house and we were watching one of those cooking shows. The sentence is stupid on so many levels. To begin with, are we to believe that some people do show up to competitions to lose? Is there a runner who wins the Boston Marathon and is pissed off? "Fuck, I came here to lose!"
The sentence doesn't say much either. Okay, so he didn't come here to lose. Did he come here to enjoy the weather? Did he come here because it was a free trip? Did he come here to embarrass himself? I'm sure everyone really wants to know. But we all figure what he means is that he came here to win. He just wants to say it in a clever way. So why not, "I didn't not come her to not lose"? That one sounds good. Instead of one double negative, it has two. And as an added bonus, it is almost impossible to figure out what it means!
But what makes the sentence so terrible is the testosterone fueled subtext that the speaker can simply will his victory. That's just bullshit.
Consider Geoffrey Mutai, one of the best marathon racers in the world. He holds the title for the fastest unofficial marathon time, 2:03:02. That's an average of 4:42 per mile. For 26 miles. He's an amazing man. He is also quite small. He is 5'7" and weighs 119 pounds. I'm sure he is not dumb enough to ever say (in whatever language), "I didn't come here to lose!" But I'm equally sure he comes to every event intent on winning.
Now consider Usain Bolt, one of the best sprinters in the world. He holds the title for the fastest 100 m and 200 m (and the unofficial fastest 150 m). That 100 m race amounts to 25.7 mph. He's an amazing man. He is also quite big. He is 6'5" and weighs 207 pounds. In other words, he's about twice the size of Geoffrey Mutai. And I am equally sure that he is not dumb enough to ever say (in whatever language), "I didn't come here to lose!" But as with Mutai, I'm sure he comes to competitions to win.
So both men come to whatever competition they enter to win. Now if they competed in a marathon, Mutai would win. If they competed in a sprint, Bolt would win. No amount of will would change the results of either of these races.
It could be that a good mental attitude helps a little, but it is swamped by other factors like Usain Bolt's enormous stride or Geoffrey Mutai's low weight or a half percentage point change in humidity. It's like with cancer: despite what people say, having a good mental attitude doesn't have any effect
on cancer outcomes.
So please, stop saying, "I didn't come here to lose!" You aren't going to will yourself to victory, and saying this just means that you're a dick.
D W Griffith deservedly has a bad rap as a racist. But I don't think he was a bad man. I can't remember who right now, but there was some southern Republican Congressman who admitted that he grew up thinking slavery wasn't bad and that the slaves were mostly fine with it. And just look at all the happy slaves in 1939's blockbuster Gone with the Wind
. So I think that we are being a bit harsh on Mr. Griffith.
But I fully admit, I want to find a way to wash away his racist beliefs and the story of Birth of a Nation
. But I don't want to wash away the film itself, because it is one of the greatest achievements in any art form ever. I'm not talking Mona Lisa
great; I'm talking Chauvet Cave
paintings great. Regardless, the man did have a heart.
Here is a short film, What Shall We Do with Our Old?
Yes, it is melodrama. But it was also very true in in 1911 when the film was made. And it was true in 1912 and 1913 and 1914 and well past 1940 when the first Social Security checks went out. This is the kind of film that should
Today, conservatives want to take us back to those days. Of course, they won't admit it. They just want to take benefits away from the "wrong kind" of people—the kind of people who "abuse" the system. But even if there are lowlifes who are scamming the system, you absolutely cannot stop them from getting benefits without stopping worthy people from getting benefits. As it is, the programs to help the poor are riddled with red tape while the programs to help the rich are given away with a smile and a handshake.
And who are these people who want grandma to starve to death while grandpa sits in jail for stealing some bread? These are people who have huge amounts of money. But they are committed to a weird idea of Darwin's theory where only the big and the smart survive. But that doesn't even happen among lizards, much less humans who have only thrived because of their social instincts. Humans have been taking care of the sick and weak for tens of thousands of years. What conservatives think is "natural" is anything but.
and his ilk are not just determined to destroy the social safety net. They are determined to destroy human civilization. They've bought into the thinking of people like Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman. In the social "Darwinian" world they want, we don't end up with Mad Max
. We end up with Planet of the Apes
As confused as D W Griffith was about the history of America, the Pete Petersons is far more so. And far more dangerous too.
I'm not a huge John Lennon fan. He wrote some great songs, though. "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Happiness Is a Warm Gun," and "Across the Universe" come immediately to mind. Just the same, he demanded a great deal of charity from the listener. I know I am pretty much alone on this, but "Imagine" is a terrible song. I can't think of a work of art that is so exclusive. John Lennon's there to help us become enlightened, which is bad enough, but then, "Imagine no possessions; I wonder if you can?" Had he been a more serious songwriter (there is no doubt of his enormous talent), he would have written the song as a self-indictment. The people listening to that song could imagine no possessions a hell of lot better than that pretentious multimillionaire. (Yoko Ono's net worth is a half billion dollars.)
Still, it is a profound sadness that he was murdered 33 years ago today at the age of 40. I think he had one more great creative period left (and no, Double Fantasy
was not part of it). It's interesting that Mark David Chapman appears to have been inspired by his conversion to Christianity to killed Lennon because of Lennon's statement (15 years earlier!) that the Beatles were more popular than Jesus. I don't mean to suggest that Christianity is to blame for the actions of Chapman. But it is certainly true that most Christians blame Islam for violent acts by individuals of that faith. I know that Christians respond that Jesus taught peace. But he also taught violence (eg Matthew 10:34-35). These old holy books can justify pretty much anything you want to do.
Good God, what a day for birthdays!
On this day way back in 65 BC, the great Roman poet Quintus Horatius Flaccus, known to us English speakers as simply Horace
, was born. Most people know of him because of one line from one of his poems Odes
Book III, Poem 2: Dulce Et Decorum Est. The line itself is, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori." A straight translation is, "Sweet and decorous it is for the fatherland to die." Now Horace is exhorting his fellow Romans to man up. You can read the whole poem in English at Poetry in Translation
. Today, we know the line from Wilfred Owen's poem
of the same name where he quotes the line. This is how he ends his poem:
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
I learned a great deal about Latin from reading Horace. All my life, I had heard that Latin was a perfect language. Yet here was this famous line that ends with an infinitive. It sounded vaguely like German to me. What I learned is that there is no such thing as a perfect language. And no language is superior to another. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. I run into grammatical problems all the time that simply can't be solved simply in English, but that is built right into other languages. It is very much like programming languages. The best language depends upon what you want to say. And that can change clause by clause. But one cool thing about Latin: it really isn't that hard. If I had a child, I would encourage him to study it.
The great French filmmaker Georges Melies
was born in 1861. You probably know of him from the hit children's book The Invention of Hugo Cabret
and the film based upon it, Hugo
. He was a professional magician who got into films very early. He is more or less the father of film special effects. But his films are generally quite charming. And they were certainly better than what was being done in America at that time. Of course, over time, his creativity was worn out. He came from the stage and his films continued to be constrained by that paradigm. But it is hard to say if that is the result of lack of ability or of the extreme demands placed on him by that great villain of early filmmaking, Thomas Edison. Regardless, it would take D W Griffith some years later to fully realize that stories on film could be told in an entirely new way. None of this takes anything away from Melies, of course. In the end, France treated Melies very much like the United States treated D W Griffith as well as Orson Welles. He was praised and honored. Young filmmakers consulted with him. But he was not able to make a single film the last 25 years of his life and much of that time he lived in poverty. Here is The Impossible Voyage
Another Frenchman, mathematician Jacques Hadamard
was born in 1865. I don't begin to understand his work. But I like what he had to say about mathematics. You see, to me, mathematics is the most creative thing that a human being can do. I get a lot of pushback from people who just don't get math. This is like people who can only draw stick figures claiming that the great Renaissance painters were not creative. This is how Wikipedia describes it:
In his book Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field
, Hadamard uses introspection to describe mathematical thought processes. In sharp contrast to authors who identify language and cognition, he describes his own mathematical thinking as largely wordless, often accompanied by mental images that represent the entire solution to a problem. He surveyed 100 of the leading physicists of the day (approximately 1900), asking them how they did their work.
Hadamard described the experiences of the mathematicians/theoretical physicists Carl Friedrich Gauss, Hermann von Helmholtz, Henri Poincaré and others as viewing entire solutions with "sudden spontaneousness."
Hadamard described the process as having four steps of the five-step Graham Wallas creative process model, with the first three also having been put forth by Helmholtz: Preparation, Incubation, Illumination, and Verification.
The great Irish flutist James Galway
is 74 today. My opinion of him has really gone up over the years. I think when I was younger, I was put off by his flashiness. But the truth is that he does everything just perfect. There are flutists as good but no one is better. Here he is doing the Allegro from the fourth Bach Flute Sonata:
Other birthdays: the tragic Mary, Queen of Scots
(1542); French composer Claude Balbastre
(1724); Czech composer (and friend of Mozart) Frantisek Xaver Dusek
(1731); French playwright Georges Feydeau
(1862); sculptor Camille Claudel
(1864); composer Jean Sibelius
(1865); the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera
(1886); cartoonist E C Segar
(1894); Cuban painter Wifredo Lam
(1902); poet Delmore Schwartz
(1913); singer Sammy Davis Jr
(1925); comedian Flip Wilson
(1933); non-Chinese actor David Carradine
(1936); singer Jim Morrison
(1943); musician Gregg Allman
(66); actor Kim Basinger
(60); comedian Sam Kinison
(1953); pernicious provocateur Ann Coulter
(52); and Sinead O'Connor
The day, however, belongs to the inventor Eli Whitney
who was born on this day in 1765. Known for his invention of the cotton gin, he made all his money manufacturing guns for the United States government. There doesn't seem to be any indication that he was an evil man, but he had a profoundly evil effect on the history of the United States. Slavery in the United States was not originally a racial institution. The problem from the standpoint of the slave-owners was that the black and white slaves had this nasty tendency to bind together and upset the "natural" order. At times, they were joined by the native tribes. So a kind of caste system was developed. The blacks were the slaves, the former white slaves just became the working poor, and the slave-owning aristocracy stayed the same. Divide and conquer. For the slave owners, this was not about racism; it was about money. But the poor whites had to be sold on the idea that the blacks ought to be slaves because they were inferior. Otherwise: there could be more binding together. Over time, I'm sure the slave-owners convinced themselves that the blacks were inferior. But it was always, always, always about money.
By the end of the 18th century, slavery was dying out in the south. Understand: it costs money to own a slave. You have to feed and cloth and house him. It only makes economic sense to keep a slave if he produces more than he costs. And at that time, all the south was producing was rice and tobacco which were not high margin crops. They were producing cotton too, but because of the seeds that had to be removed, it was labor intensive and thus not very profitable. Some slaveowners were giving away their slaves. Until the cotton gin was invented in 1793. In the 20 years after its invention, cotton production increased almost 100 fold.
This was not just a catastrophe for the slaves themselves. It was terrible for the southern economy. For the next 60 years, instead of industrializing and diversifying its economy, the south became dependent upon a single product. It was, in effect, a banana republic. Slavery was going to die regardless, because eventually cotton demand would go down and anyway, others, more inclined toward modern manufacturing processes would have out competed the south's slave labor approach. Slavery is just bad economics. It is the most extreme example of income inequality. But Whitney—a northern industrialist—allowed the south to diminish its economy and destroy the lives of millions of black Americans both before and after the Civil War. It's sad, because I'm sure Whitney meant well.
Happy birthday Eli Whitney, may God be as merciful as many claim!
I haven't written much about grammar recently and it has begun to bother me. A few of you will understand this: grammar is a great refuge for me. If politics or my personal life are getting to be too much, I can curl up with Fowler or a number of other great writing writers and escape it all. When I was younger, math would do that for me. But my brain has changed and now math is either trivial or exhausting. But I can lose hours diving into the intricacies of the gerund. Also, there are my continuing efforts to simplify the language and slowly reduce the number of things I have to worry about, like my campaigns to stop using the words annunciate
Today, I have nothing so sexy as jettisoning old redundant words and French gender identifiers in English. I came upon a sentence this morning by the fine political writer Martin Longman over at Political Animal
, In Colorado, Same As It Ever Was
. But before I get to it, please remember I'm not attacking him. Blogging is a fast-paced business with little or no support staff and absolutely no copy editors. What's more, I think Longman is a better writer than I am. Regardless, he wrote:
I mention this because Ken Buck is running for Senate again, this time against Mark Udall, and he is far ahead
in the polls.
What he just mentioned was an article from three years ago by Steve Benen that discussed Buck's extremist positions. So there really is no context for this sentence and it completely confused me. I didn't know who was far ahead in the polls. My best guess was that it is Buck, but it wasn't clear. Even worse, if we assume that Buck is ahead, we can only
assume that he is far ahead of Udall. Knowing what I know of Colorado politics, that didn't sound right. So I clicked over and got the information. Here is what Longman should have written:
I mention this because Ken Buck is running for Senate again, this time against Mark Udall, and Buck is far ahead of his primary opponents in the polls.
I understand why he didn't write the sentence that way. This is an issue that I struggle with constantly—I think all careful writers do. You don't want to write sentences like, "Cindy walked up to Andrea, and Andrea looked away, Andrea started to cry and Cindy said, 'Buck up!'" That's just awful and there are easy ways to fix it. But it is definitely better than, "Cindy walked up to Andrea, and she looked away, she started to cry and she said, 'Buck up!'" (Obviously: "Cindy walked up to Andrea who looked away and started to cry. 'Buck up!' Cindy said. And then Andrea punched her in the mouth because anyone who ever says 'buck up' is an asshole.")
As I wrote before, All Is Clarity
. The first thing we must do as writers is be clear. There are other things we can do, but what I think most writers find is that if they are clear, their particular style will shine through. Now it may be a tired style that no one wants to read. But the constant struggle for clarity will help the style too. For one thing, clarity tends to eliminate cliches, which are the biggest barrier to a compelling style. And don't think I'm speaking from on high. My work is riddled with cliches, like the way I started the sentence before last, "For one thing." Yikes!
But pronouns are a big program for us. We need to watch out for them. And it is always better for a sentence to be clumsy than unclear.
I was thinking of of the movie The Paper Chase
today. It was released forty years ago. I've watched it a few times over the years and each time it is different. When I first saw it, it was the story of Hart trying to get the grade and graduate Harvard Law School. Later, it was the story of a man learning what matters in life and how to juggle all the complexities that go along with that. But most recently, it is the story of the futility of attainment. Law school, like almost everything else that we are taught to value is pointless.
You may remember an episode of the cartoon The Flintstones
. In it, Fred lost his job and so Wilma is reading the help wanted ads from the morning news "tablet." She read, "Wanted: man to put cotton balls in
glass bottles." This was followed by, "Wanted: man to take cotton balls out
of glass bottles." It's a funny gag, or at least it was when I was a kid. Once I found myself as an adult working in the corporate world, I found that was about right. The vast majority of what people are paid to do is busy work.
When I worked the graveyard shift at a gas station, they wanted me to get a certain amount of work done each night—cleaning and stocking—because there were very few customers. I could get all that work done in 45 minutes because I was young and capable. This allowed me to read and write much of the rest of the night. But as soon as they found out I did that, it became verboten
. I had to spend my whole night very slowly doing my work.
I'm sure most of you reading this have experienced the same thing. It took me a long time to figure out why this was so. My employer—and I dare say most
employers—did not think I was being paid for the work that I did. I was being paid for the rental of my body, although I'm not sure that they understood this. For that time I was on the clock, they owned me. And this isn't just the case with crummy jobs like running a gas station. A number of times, I've had to have writing contracts changed because the standard contracts claim that they own everything that the artist creates. This was very strange when I was, for example, signing a contract to write software but the fine print claimed to own the novel I was writing at night. In general, employers don't have a problem making these changes for employees observant enough to point them out. In fact, that are often visibly embarrassed. But the default position is that a worker is signing on to be a slave—temporary though the contract may be.
What we, the non-power elite, are taught, however, is something totally different. The following clip from The Paper Chase
is from the middle of the film. Hart is finally starting to understand what Susan has tried to teach him, "They finally got you, Hart, they sucked all that Midwestern charm right out of you. Look, he's got you scared to death. You're going to pass, because you're the kind the law school wants. You'll get your little diploma. Your piece of paper that's no different than this [toilet paper roll] and you can stick it in your silver box with all the other paper in your life. Your birth certificate, driver's license, marriage license, your stock certificates, and your will... I wish you would flunk, there might be some hope for you." Well, Hart fights back. He sees the absurdity of the system and he refuses to play:
It's a great
scene. It is also a lie. It is the modern version of the Horatio Alger myth: if you stand up to power, it will respect you. That's not the case. If you stand up to power, it will crush you.
I've also been in a very different situation in corporate America, where I
had actual power. I was the head of IT at a medium sized real estate investment company. When I started, it had net profits of about $2 million per year and when I left two years later, it had net profits of $20 million per year. Its sudden growth required huge increases in telecommunication and computing resources. But since the growth wasn't expected, the infrastructure grew in an ad hoc
manner. By the end, it was very complicated and I was the only one who really understood the system. I have no doubt that this made me kind of a pompous dick. But the management hated me because they needed me. It would have all been fine if I had simply contracted with some million dollar consultant who had come in and created the system. That would be one of them. And I would have remained the cog I was hired to be—rather than becoming half their whole machine.
At no time did the company I worked for think that I ought to be rewarded. Being productive is not the point in our economy. And it is not the point of American business. It is all a kind of theater of the absurd where every person comes to work each day to play a part. There is no plot. The point of the play is to create a static image of what society is. And what our society is, is a caste system with just enough mobility to allow for the illusion of a meritocracy.
The ending of The Paper Chase
sums us up perfectly. Hart gets his grades in the mail. Susan says to him, "Aren't you going to open your grades?" Hart says nothing. He makes a paper airplane out of the letter and sails it into the ocean. He did his best and he doesn't care what the power elite have to say about it. But Hart is a mythical figure. And the filmmakers know this. Because we were shown what Hart was not: Professor Kingsfield writing down his grade of A. We care, you see.
At the beginning of the film, Kingsfield gives his great speech, "You teach yourselves the law, but I train your minds. You come in here with a skull full of mush; you leave thinking like a lawyer." But in the end, society doesn't care if you have a mind full of mush or the mind of a lawyer. It wants the graduate with his grade of A. He can be depended upon to play his part and do his busy work. He won't upset the type casting.
It isn't your fault. We have an economic system that is desperately in need of an overhaul. But everyone spends so much of their time performing their parts that they don't have the energy or the inclination to rewrite the play.
Since I am often criticized for being too oblique, The Bald Soprano
is the first play of absurdist Eugene Ionesco. It is a good analogy of our economic system because the characters are pretty much interchangeable. In fact, the traditional ending of the play has it start over at the beginning with the two main couples switching parts. I wouldn't take the analogy too far. Someone suffering from Down syndrome could not be interchanged with Persi Diaconis
. But generally speaking, the genetic material that goes into the rich goes into the poor and what differentiates them is the casting of birth and other accidents.
This will give you a feel for the play:
Sigh. I like Jonathan Bernstein a whole lot. He's a very smart guy and I've learned so much from him. But sometimes, he is such an idiot. This week he wrote, Still Hoping to Save the Filibuster
. His argument is that with lifetime appointments, there really should be some kind of legislative check against the majority. So he offers up some ideas for how we could maintain something along the lines of Filibuster Lite
. One idea is that the majority would have to get unanimous agreement. He has other similar ideas.
The problem with all of them is the problem with the filibuster itself. And Bernstein himself has written repeatedly and at length that the problem was not the filibuster but the Republican Party. What would Bernstein's proposal mean with a big tent party like the Democrats and a tiny tent party like the Republicans? When the Republicans were in control, the most extreme judges would be put on the bench for life. But when the Democrats were in control, the Blue Dogs would insist on "moderate" judges; no more Ruth Bader Ginsburgs. (And note: Ruth Bader Ginsburg is hardly an extremist.)
Martin Longman takes on all of Bernstein's proposals, Don't Revive the Filibuster
. But even it doesn't get at the most important aspect of all of this. Namely that the Republicans wanted
to kill the filibuster and they would have killed it the first chance they got, regardless of whether the Senate came up with some kind of deal or not.
I understand the desire to keep minority rights strong in the Senate. But any efforts to do that depend upon everyone involved abiding by the historic Senate norms. And as I've shown, over the last 50 years, the Democrats have abided by the norms
set by the Republicans who broke with those norms each and every time
they were in the minority. So this game is played out.
There are two ways to deal with an adversary. One is to try to woo them and find common ground. That is usually the way to go. But when the adversary is a revolutionary group
like the Republican Party, there really is no option but complete defeat. So it amazes me that Jonathan Bernstein can be so clear-headed about what has happened to the parties but then pine for some kind of comity that just won't happen.
There is a conservative party and a liberal party in the United States. And those two parties are inside the Democratic Party. The Republican Party only makes sense in a parliamentary system, where minor extremist parties can thrive. But in our system, we need two reasonable—big tent—parties. There is no indication that the Republicans are capable of moving away from their extremist positions. And the biggest example of this is their approach to the filibuster. They are happy to see it go because they know the Democrats will not make any major changes to the government, and they look forward to one day having complete control of the government when they will try to radically change the nation. God help us if we citizens allow that to happen.
On this day in 1598, one of the greatest sculptors of all time, Gian Lorenzo Bernini
was born. He was also a great painter and architect. Oh, and he was involved in the theater and wrote plays. He's not as well known as Michelangelo, but he is at least as good and I would say better. He pretty much invented Baroque sculpture. Of course, that is why he isn't terribly well known outside of art circles. With the rise of the Neoclassical movement, Baroque art fell out of favor. I much prefer the Neoclassical period myself. But it does show how stupid art criticism tends to be. The old saying is all you really need to go by, "I may not know art, but I know what I like!" Caveat: that doesn't mean what you don't like is bad.
The composer Pietro Mascagni
was born in 1863. He composed in that wonderful period between Romantic and Modern, where the music was crisp but beautiful. He is mostly known as an opera composer. Indeed, his one-act opera Cavalleria Rusticana
is still one of the most performed to this day. What follows is the Intermezzo from that opera. I dare you not to love it.
The great actor Eli Wallach
is 98 today. Good God! And he's still working. I just saw him in two recent films Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps
and The Ghost Writer
. I once worked with his nephew on a short film that I was making. His name was Marz, and was an ND. And a horrible
actor. All he did was mug at the camera. I gave up after two days. But he was a very nice and smart guy. Regardless Uncle Eli and Aunt Anne are great actors. Here is Wallach in his iconic role of Tuco in The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
The great Tom Waits is 64. Here he is doing "Heart Attack and Vine":
Other birthdays: poet Allan Cunningham
(1784); composer Ernst Toch
(1887); actor Ted Knight
(1923); actor Ellen Burstyn
(81); musician (who I really don't like for a couple of reasons) Harry Chapin
(1942); and basketball player Larry Bird
The day, however, belongs to Noam Chomsky
who is 85 today. He is one of the greatest linguists of the 20th century. But unlike other linguists who I can understand, I don't really understand his work. The basics of it are simple, however: linguistic syntax is built into our biology. If you want to know more, check out the Wikipedia page
on, "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously."
Chomsky is mostly known for his political writing. He had a profound impact on my thinking. But actually, he's pretty hard to read. A colorful writer he is not. But I am with him on his analysis of American imperialism and neo-liberalism. And I too consider myself a libertarian socialist, which he explains beautifully in the following audio file:
Happy birthday Noam Chomsky!
Jonathan Chait has been writing a lot about race this week with having finally seen 12 Years a Slave
and now with Nelson Mandela's death
. I wrote a very positive take on one of his articles only yesterday, Liberal and Conservative Views of Racism
. But I think he is a bit confused today, Why Conservatives Got Segregation Wrong a Second Time in South Africa
. He's prevaricating terribly. He really doesn't want to come out and say that conservatives are racists, but he ends his article simply enough, "And a failure to grasp the historical character of racism is not merely a recurring problem for conservative racial thought, it is its defining quality."
The word "racism" has gotten to be almost useless. In the minds of most people, it conjures up southern bigots lynching a black man who whistled at a pretty white girl. But that's really not what I mean by racist anymore. We live in a racist society where blacks especially are an underclass. The conservative animosity toward them is not based upon race a priori
. The great conservative myth is that hard work and intelligence will allow anyone to thrive in this great nation of ours. If blacks as a group are not now doing as well as whites, it must be because they don't work as hard and aren't as intelligent. So it is not that conservatives want to keep minority groups down; it is that their own mythology leads them to the conclusion that minority groups keep themselves down. Thus, in a meritocracy, it would be wrong to do anything for them.
Conservatives believe in the existing power structure, whatever it might be. This is the basis of Corey Robin's work
. What defines conservatism is its reaction against liberation movements of subordinate classes. I write about this all the time, but not in such highfalutin language. Simply: conservatives think that the way things are is the way things ought to be. Anything that might drag the rich down (e.g. taxes) or raise the poor up (e.g. public education) are theoretically repugnant. It is not, as is often claimed, that conservatives think the free market will make a more equitable society; they think the free market will make a more moral society.
Hence, conservatives are racists as long as blacks do not succeed as well as whites in this economic system. This, in itself, would not be so bad. But what passes for the "unfettered free market" in conservative thought is nothing but ossified privilege. They already think that the society is nearly perfect. Thus, giving no-bid contracts with no accountability to the rich just makes sense. If the poor were deserving of government largess, then they would already be rich. And it isn't just the rich themselves who deserve this special treatment; their children do too. If conservatives really believed in the survival of the "fittest," they would be in favor of a high estate tax. Instead, they want no estate tax at all.
So let me be clear. Conservatives don't want to lynch blacks. But they most definitely think that poor blacks and poor whites alike are inferior. And given the statistics, there must be something wrong with the blacks. But that doesn't make conservatives hate them. They just don't care. And in particular, they don't care enough to address gross inequalities in healthcare and education and criminal "justice." Because in the conservative brain, the only social ill is that the rich are not rich enough and the poor make too much noise.