Feb 19

Human evolution and the Myth of Control

Bone House Wasp - Very Good MotherMother Nature Network published an interesting little article some time ago, Kooky Cartwheeling Spider Among Bizarre New Species. It seems that 18,000 recently discovered species were given official names this last year. And so the College of Environmental Science and Forestry at State University of New York (SUNY) decided to highlight ten of these creatures. Think about that for a moment. Humans have spent thousands of years cataloging different animal species, yet we can still be discovering tens of thousands of them each year. According to the article, there are still 10 million yet to be discovered. This number is also the estimate of the total number of species on the earth. Thus far, humans have only been able to catalog about 1.5 million species.

The group of creatures include some things that demand a rewrite of Hamlet, “There are more things on earth than are dreamt of in your worst nightmares.” Take the bone house wasp. Although disturbing, we must admit that she is a hell of a good mother. She creates a nest in a hollow stem of a plant. At the bottom, she lays her eggs. On top of it, she puts a dead spider for the hungry baby wasps, once they are born. That’s actually rather nice of the mother in regard to the spider — paralyzing, and having them eaten alive seems a much more common approach in the wild. The creepy part comes when the mother wasp piles dead ants on the very top. This is done to ward off predators because of the smell of the ants. So think about a nursery with rotting corpses piled by the door to keep others away. Effective, loving, and very creepy!

For the creationists out there, there is the Limnonectes larvaepartus. It is a frog from Indonesia that gives birth to live tadpoles. That’s interesting because most frogs lay eggs and a few frogs give birth to baby frogs. This new frog is what we might call “the missing link.” But as we know from creationist apologetics, there will always be “holes” in the diversity of life. Nothing will convince them because they cannot be convinced. They “know” the truth and are only looking for things that justify what they already “know.”

Another of the new species is Torquigener albomaculosu, a kind of pufferfish. The male of this species attract females by creating beautiful designs in the sand. That reminds me of the following “Effective Catcalls” cartoon. Females really do appreciate a man who can provide a nice home.

Effective Catcalls

The sad thing about all the species we are discovering is that plants and animals are going extinct at an even faster rate. Of course, life forms are always going extinct — it is the nature of life. But it is hard not to figure that we are largely responsible for the fast rate. Thus far, we have done this by destroying habitat, but as time goes on, the climate forcing is going to be a much bigger — even catastrophic thing.

Still, the amazing diversity of life on the earth is staggering. At the same time, mama wasps are just like human mothers in all they do to protect their young. And I know that a lot of people will dismiss what the wasp does as just instinct. But our great brains don’t seem to change the overall nature of things. We humans are pre-programmed to think that human babies are cute and worth protecting. We may obscure that with ideas like “feeling” and “choice.” But I think that’s all rubbish. We are all on autopilot, we just have these big brains that trick us into thinking we are in control.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/19/human-evolution-and-the-myth-of-control/

Feb 19

Trump Cares About the Working Man CEO

Matt Taibbi - Wall Street CEOsDonald Trump, the man who positioned himself as the common man’s shield against Wall Street, signed a series of orders today calling for reviews or rollbacks of financial regulations. He did so after meeting with some friendly helpers.

Here’s how CNBC described the crowd of Wall Street CEOs Trump received, before he ordered a review of both the Dodd-Frank Act and the fiduciary rule requiring investment advisors to act in their clients’ interests:

“Trump also will meet at the White House with leading CEOs, including JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon, Blackstone’s Steve Schwarzman, and BlackRock’s Larry Fink.”

Leading the way for this assortment of populist heroes will be former Goldman honcho Gary Cohn, now Trump’s chief economic advisor.

Dimon, Schwarzman, Fink and Cohn collectively represent a rogues gallery of the creeps most responsible for the 2008 crash. It would be hard to put together a group of people less sympathetic to the non-wealthy.

Trump’s approach to Wall Street is in sharp contrast to his tough-talking stances on terrorism. He talks a big game when slamming the door on penniless refugees, but curls up like a beach weakling around guys who have more money than he does.

—Matt Taibbi
Extreme Vetting, But Not for Banks

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/19/trump-wall-street-ceo/

Feb 18

Parentheses and Periods: Getting Them Right

Parentheses and PeriodsThis morning I was shocked to read something that Paul Krugman wrote, “Real GDP grew 3.4 percent annually under Reagan; it grew 3.7 percent annually under Clinton (shhh — don’t tell conservatives.)” Krugman knows better, of course. I’ve long been impressed with just how few typos creep into his work — even when he’s writing a lot. So much the better to use him as an example. I don’t want to put him or anyone down for this mistake. And he didn’t make this mistake out of ignorance, I’m sure. But this construct of misplacing a period in relationship to a closing parenthesis mark drives me crazy!

The truth is, this is easy. I really don’t understand why so many people have trouble with it. But trust me: I work with a lot of writers and a lot of them have trouble with it. I wonder if it is an American thing. Last year, I wrote, My Job Description Requires I Be Wrong About Quotation Marks. In England, periods go before or after an ending quotation mark based upon whether the period belongs to quoted material. In American English, we always throw the period before the quotation mark. (I hate this too, but I’ve given up the fight.)

Quotation Marks

Here’s an example from Kristen McHenry’s poem “Museum[1] in her book, The Goatfish Alphabet. Since I don’t want to deal with quotes within quotes, I’ll put this in boxes. Here is the sentence as we would typeset it in America:

My favorite line from “Museum” is, “Feeling their blind way through the drenched black pines.”

But that’s wrong. The line does not end with a period. Here is how it would be typeset in Britain:

My favorite line from “Museum” is, “Feeling their blind way through the drenched black pines”.

So this madness with periods and quotation marks rubs off and apparently makes people think the same is true of parentheses marks. But it isn’t! For whatever reason, we here in America care about this. And like I said: it is easy. It is, in fact, easier than with quotation marks because the intent is clearer.

Sentences Must Stop

Sentences need a stop: usually a period. This is what defines them as sentences. So in Krugman’s example above, he needs a period after the final parenthesis. He could have written it this way, “Real GDP grew 3.4 percent annually under Reagan; it grew 3.7 percent annually under Clinton (shhh — don’t tell conservatives.).” But that parenthetical comment hardly needs its own stop. So better would have been, “Real GDP grew 3.4 percent annually under Reagan; it grew 3.7 percent annually under Clinton (shhh — don’t tell conservatives).”

Personally, I would have rendered it, “Real GDP grew 3.4 percent annually under Reagan; it grew 3.7 percent annually under Clinton. (Shhh; don’t tell conservatives!)” And having read Krugman for a decade, I suspect that’s what he meant to write.

Dealing With Parentheses and Punctuation

Here are my rules for dealing with parentheses:

  1. If a parenthetical comment is not a full sentence, treat it as you would a comment between commas.
  2. If a parenthetical comment is a full sentence, treat it as such:
    • Capitalize the first word
    • End it with a stop (period, question mark, or exclamation mark).
  3. If a full sentence parenthetical comment appears at the end of a sentence, it probably belongs outside the sentence.

But if you ever get confused about whether you need a period or other stop outside a parenthesis, ask yourself, “Is this the end of the sentence?” Remove the parenthetical comment if necessary. It should be obvious then. After you properly end your sentence, then you can put your parenthetical comment back with or without its own stop.


[1] I read a lot of poetry and this is one of my all time favorite poems. It just happens to be written by a long-time friend. When I first read it, I wrote her a thousand-word email message gushing about it. There’s more meaning and beauty in it than in the vast majority of novels.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/18/parentheses-periods/

Feb 18

Why Trump Won’t Invigorate the Economy

Paul Krugman - CarrierThe Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump administration’s budget planning assumes very high economic growth over the next decade — between 3 and 3.5 percent annually. How was this number arrived at? Basically, they worked backwards, assuming the growth they needed to make their budget numbers add up. Credibility! …

The claimed returns to Trumpnomics are close to the highest growth rates we’ve seen under any modern administration. Real GDP grew 3.4 percent annually under Reagan; it grew 3.7 percent annually under Clinton (shhh — don’t tell conservatives). But there are fundamental reasons to believe that such growth is unlikely to happen now.

First, demography: Reagan took office with baby boomers — and women — still entering the work force; these days baby boomers are leaving. …

Just on demography alone, then, you’d expect growth to be around a percentage point lower than it was under Reagan.

Furthermore, while Trump did not, in fact, inherit a mess, both Reagan and Clinton did — in the narrow sense that both came into office amid depressed economies, with unemployment above 7 percent…

This meant a substantial amount of slack to be taken up when the economy returned to full employment. Rough calculation: 2 points of excess unemployment means 4 percent output gap under Okun’s Law, which means 0.5 percentage points of extra growth over an 8-year period.

So even if you (wrongly) give Reagan policies credit for the business cycle recovery after 1982, and believe (wrongly) that Trumponomics is going to do wonderful things for incentives a la Reagan, you should still be expecting growth of 2 percent or under.

–Paul Krugman
Trump’s Rosy Scenario

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/18/trump-economic-growth/

Feb 18

Mary Jo White Ever Corporate Clients’ Friend

Mary Jo WhiteMary Jo White, whose tenure as chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission under President Obama bitterly disappointed those who hoped she would aggressively enforce banking laws, is rejoining the corporate defense team at Debevoise & Plimpton, marking her sixth trip through the revolving door between various government jobs and the white-collar defense law firm she calls home.

Debevoise represents numerous major financial institutions under federal investigation, and White will now help those corporate clients manage their legal exposure.

White got the call to return to Debevoise on Inauguration Day, her last day at the SEC. As Debevoise presiding partner Michael Blair told the Wall Street Journal, “We had been waiting to make that phone call for several years.”

This latest trip through the revolving door is particularly disturbing because White declared in ethics disclosure forms before becoming SEC chair that she was retiring from her partnership at Debevoise, receiving a lump sum retirement payment of over $2 million. Instead of staying retired, she immediately went back to Debevoise after her government service ended, pocketing the money.

It is not, however, surprising…

Under White, the SEC failed to monitor stock buybacks to prevent market manipulation. It failed to stop the epidemic of granting waivers to companies automatically banned from securities activities after settling cases of civil and criminal wrongdoing. White stood with Republican commissioners even as Democratic colleagues tried to stop those waivers from being granted. In a troubling continuance of regulatory capture at the agency, White hired a senior Goldman Sachs attorney as the SEC chief of staff.

Though White made a big show of fighting to force companies to admit guilt in any settlement, a break from past practice, in reality this tool was rarely used. According to a letter from Senator Elizabeth Warren, of 520 settlements from June 2013 to September 2014, only 19 required admissions of guilt. And in the majority of those cases, the SEC only asked for a broad admission of the facts of the case, rather than admissions of specific securities violations. In one example, the SEC got JPMorgan Chase to admit to breaking a law in 2013, but it wouldn’t say which one.

–David Dayen
A Corporate Defender at Heart, Former Sec Chair Mary Jo White Returns to Her Happy Place

See Also:

01 January 2013: Mary Jo White: Business As Usual
24 June 2013: Good Change at SEC — Maybe
05 June 2015: Mary Jo White Is Doing Obama’s Will: Nothing

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/18/mary-jo-white/

Feb 17

Everybody Loves Robot Monster

Psychotronic ReviewNew at Pychotronic Review: Everybody Loves Robot Monster

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/17/everybody-loves-robot-monster/

Feb 17

The Obama Legacy in the Time of Trump

Obama HopeA major theme of my book, perhaps the central one, is that a fixation on all sides with fleeting short-term events obscured the breadth and depth of the transformative change wrought by the Obama administration. Large and even revolutionary policy changes received little attention because they were not attached to whatever political drama had captured the attention of the political media, and those “game-changing” dramas, in turn, frequently had little or no ultimate importance.

That same fixation with immediacy has continued to color our perception of Obama since he departed. Donald Trump’s election is the most compelling and immediate story in American politics, and correctly so, but its drama has caused Obama’s presidency to be refracted through the lens of Trump. What does Trump tell us about Obama? What does Obama tell us about Trump? The easy assumption since November has been that Trump would rapidly erase Obama’s legacy. “Obama’s legacy is toast,” gloated conservative commentators. That conclusion, reached immediately in the wake of the election, has continued to form the entirety of right-wing thought about Obama. Trump won, ergo, everything Obama did is gone, close the books…

Obama’s measures to prevent a second Great Depression after the 2008 financial crisis — the stimulus, the stress tests of the banks, and auto bailout — are safe from Trump by definition. The Dodd-Frank financial reforms will be temporarily weakened through lax enforcement, just as labor, environmental, campaign, and other regulations conservatives disapprove of are typically weakened during Republican administrations. But Republicans do not have anywhere close to the 60 votes they need to wipe Dodd-Frank off the books. Obama’s education reforms are likely safe as well.

But, as I argued in the book, both the green-energy revolution that Obama helped set out, and the international diplomatic consensus in favor of limiting climate change he helped assemble have a life of their own. Rather than use Trump’s election as an excuse to renege on their own commitments, world leaders insisted after the election their agreement was irreversible. Trump will slow down the pace of the green-energy transformation, but he has neither the inclination nor the ability to destroy the changes of the last eight years. Over the last few weeks, two of the largest coal-fired power plants have announced plans to shut down…

The old conservative mental image of green energy as an unaffordable hippie daydream is hopelessly quaint, in a world where the cost of solar has plunged 85 percent, and wind 66 percent, since the stimulus, and these technologies now produce energy for less than coal. Since 2008, wind power has more than quadrupled, and solar-power capacity has increased 4,000 percent.

Battery-storage technology is a crucial factor to the greening of both the electric power sector and the transportation sector. Affordable batteries are the key component to making electric cars cost-competitive with the gasoline-powered kind. And battery storage is an enormous factor in allowing renewable energy to completely displace fossil fuels. Solar and wind power can already generate electricity more cheaply than coal, but battery storage is necessary for those sources to replace the need for fossil-fuel power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. The price of advanced batteries has fallen by more than half in the last three years alone…

And the Republican notion that subsidizing an infant industry violates the principles of a free economy, and amounts to “crony capitalism,” has been utterly abandoned in the face of an administration where the president uses his office for self-enrichment and White House employees literally use their office to gin up customers for his family business.

And then there is Obamacare repeal, the Holy Grail of the quest to erase Obama’s legacy. My book argues that Obamacare will be difficult to repeal — by bringing 20 million previously uninsured Americans into the system, Republicans can no longer ignore them. Events since its publication have borne out that analysis. Republicans have promised to replace the law with a plan that has lower deductibles and premiums and better choices. A plan like that would require spending more money than Obamacare, and Republicans are coming face-to-face with the reality that there’s no mechanism to finance such a plan that their party could support… Financing the alternative plan is the largest obstacle facing Republicans, but hardly the only one. There are innumerable problems that must be resolved — whether to keep the Medicaid expansion, whether to defund Planned Parenthood, whether to repeal Obamacare’s taxes, and on and on. Republicans have to find near unanimity on every single one of them in order to pass a bill out of both chambers of Congress. They have resolved none of them so far.

Republicans in Congress have made no more progress in developing a partywide alternative in the three and a half months since the election than they made in the seven years before that. Their only options are to keep the current system, or some version thereof, or inflict cruelty upon millions and massive disruption to an industry that accounts for a fifth of the economy. “I would say it’s not that easy to repeal it,” concedes Representative Peter King. “The entire repeal is in mortal danger,” admits Representative Trent Franks.

Republican messaging heavily emphasized the notion that Obama governed largely through the issuing of executive orders, which supposedly left his agenda vulnerable to a quick reversal. Trump has illustrated how fallacious that notion was. The new president has issued a flurry of executive orders, but — with the exception of the immigration order, which was a fiasco — these orders have mostly been symbolic vehicles for communicating goals, rather than actual policy changes.

The notion that Obama’s presidency could and would be erased with a few strokes of the pen was a form of Republican propaganda that Republicans themselves came to believe. Conservatives took Trump’s grandiose rhetoric about repealing Obamacare and replacing it with something terrific, or bringing back coal jobs, at face value because they wanted to believe it. (Many despondent liberals yielded to the same conclusion out of characteristic fatalism.) But one of the lessons gained from a close study of Obama’s presidency, or any presidency, is that governing is hard. The reforms his domestic policies have wrought do not come easy. Even a highly competent Republican presidency would have difficulty unwinding them. And Trump has shown no signs so far of being even a minimally competent president. The expectation of a rapid erasure of Obama’s presidency looks like — to pick a cliché I read somewhere — hubris dashed against the sharp rocks of reality.

–Jonathan Chait
Remember How Trump Was Going to Erase Obama’s Legacy Overnight? Yeah, Not So Much.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/17/obama-legacy-trump/

Feb 16

Republicans Obamacare Disagreements

Andrew ProkopDeep uncertainty and serious divisions within the Republican coalition about the way forward on Obamacare have surfaced in the new Congress, and they’ve put the future of repeal and replace in doubt.

It’s become evident that there is little GOP unity on how much a replacement plan should cost, how to pay for it, whether the Medicaid expansion should be rolled back, or how to fix the individual markets.

Furthermore, there is no evident agreement even on extremely broad questions such as, “What should the goals of the GOP’s replacement plan be?”

Accordingly, many Republicans in both the House and Senate are increasingly fearful about moving to roll back Obamacare too quickly when so little is settled about what comes after it. And their problems are compounded by the fact that while a reasonably comprehensive repeal bill could be rammed through with just 50 Senate votes plus Vice President Mike Pence, a serious replacement bill would need 60 Senate votes, at least eight of which would have to come from Democrats.

It is not impossible that President Trump and the Republican Party will overcome all these problems. But to do so, they will have to come up with consensus answers to these five very serious unsettled questions.

1) What is the goal here? …

2) What will they do about money? …

3) What’s to be done with Medicaid? …

4) How will they try to make the individual markets work better? …

5) Just how committed are they to this thing, anyway?

—Andrew Prokop
The 5 Biggest Disagreements Republicans Have on Obamacare

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/16/obamacare-repeal-disagreements/

Feb 16

Problem with Funny Business Names

Funny Business NamesI hate “funny” business names. They are usually puns. For example, here in the Bay Area, we have Site for Sore Eyes Optical Store. Look: I get it. When I first saw there was an eye doctor named “site for sore eyes,” I thought it was amusing. And there are other ones that I’ve thought were fairly clever. There’s the sporting goods store (Guess what they specialize in!) called “The Merchant of Tennis.” Or the “Church of Cod” with a little Jesus Fish symbol. Or best of all a fish & chips place called “A Salt & Battery.” Clever names all!

And then there are names that while clever are just a bad idea. There’s the hair salon named “Cubic Hair.” And the ice cream shop called “The Sweet Dairy-Air.” And most of all, the fishing supply shop “Master Bait & Tackle.” In addition to these all being coarse, they don’t make sense. What exactly do pubic hair, derriere, and masturbate have to do with what they’re selling. (If you know, please don’t tell me.)

This all came up because Will told me about a routine by comedian Brian Regan. Here is the routine that someone shot off a TV:

The problem with these clever names is that they are only ever clever once. After that, at least for me, they become annoying. What’s more, it reminds me of a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They are all going to head to Camelot. Then there is a musical number with knights at Camelot dancing arm in arm. Finally, King Arthur says, “On second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. It is a silly place.” And that’s what I think of when I see an ad for Site for Sore Eyes. Do I really want to trust my eyes to such silly people? (Of course, I know intellectually that this isn’t the case, but gut reactions matter regardless of what many think.)

So if you come up with a really clever name for a dry cleaning business, I hope you are a comedy writer and not dry cleaner:

Afterword

There are, of course, truly great names that are clever, coarse, and effective. The best example is French Connection UK, better known as FCUK. But that works especially well because it flatters their customer demographic about offending their non-demographic.

Alternately, some names work as a pun or not. A good example of this is Book Passage, a book store just down the road from me. But notice, it isn’t meant to be funny. It is just meant to be taken in a number of ways, each of which are appropriate to the business. It is also a great book store.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/16/problem-with-funny-business-names/

Feb 15

Trump Has Far Less Power Than He Thinks

Donald Trump - Not Much PowerMost people think that President Richard Nixon was brought down by Bernstein and Woodward — those intrepid reporters at The Washington Post. They weren’t the only reporters on the story, so that’s a simplification. But the truth is that it wasn’t any group of reporters who caused Nixon to resign from the presidency. If you had to pick a man, it would be Mark Felt — better known as Deep Throat. He had real power, which he used brilliantly. And his reason for going after the president tells us a lot about the political climate that we now live in.

In 1972, Mark Felt was Associate Director of the FBI. Although his motives in All the President’s Men were claimed to be patriotic, his actual allegiance was to the FBI itself. Felt didn’t like what he saw as meddling in the agency by the Nixon administration. He was almost 60 years old when he started leaking information, so it’s hard to see him as the idealistic leaker that Chelsea Manning was. If I were Donald Trump, I’d be afraid.

Let’s remember what brought down President Nixon. It wasn’t the break-in of the DNC office at the Watergate complex. That would have been pathetic enough a thing. He was brought down because of his part in trying to cover-up this second-rate crime. We know that presidents are involved with far worse crimes all the time. Why didn’t Ronald Reagan and George H W Bush get indicted about the far worse crimes involved in the Iran-Contra affair? Because the bureaucratic infrastructure wasn’t out to get them. Indeed, both men were protected by Oliver North.

Trump’s Antagonizes the Powerful

The Trump administration has gone out of its way to antagonize most of the US government’s bureaucratic infrastructure. That’s especially true of the most dangerous part of it: the intelligence community, which has show little reluctance to use its power. I wonder if Michael Flynn wouldn’t still be Trump’s National Security Advisor if it weren’t for the intelligence community’s distaste for Trump and his minions.

The truth is that I doubt one could be President of the United State without commonly breaking the law. And even if it were possible, Trump would not be the president who managed the feat. In fact, it takes no power of imagination to substitute Trump for Nixon when he said, “When the President does it, that means that it is not illegal.”


YouTube Video: Nixon When the president does it, that means that it is not illegal

So it seems certain that the Trump administration will break the law. Trump seems to think that the president is a dictator. And there are thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — of government officials who would be thrilled to get rid of him. Add to that the fact that the Republican Party itself would be happy to get rid of Trump — so long as the alternative would be Mike Pence. And you end up with a very dangerous situation for Donald Trump.

Trump Doesn’t Have Much Power

I’m not saying that Trump will go away any time soon. For one thing, he and his staff are so incompetent that it’s possible they won’t be able to get enough done to break any laws. It may just be four long years of embarrassing tweets and nothing more — other than signing every legislative wet dream the Republicans in Congress have ever had.

But Trump doesn’t seem much interested in wielding real power. His constant boasting show that he’s more interested in looking tough than actually being it. And his idea of looking tough is that of a third grade boy. The truth is that if you lead a country that has a military roughly the size of all the other countries combined, no one would question your toughness. Trump’s boasts seem to indicate a kind of insecurity on his own part.

Trump hasn’t made friends with old enemies. The Russians have the same relationship with us now as they ever did. But Trump has made enemies he didn’t need to. And those enemies could be his ultimate downfall.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/15/power-trump/

Feb 15

Funding Social Wealth Fund: Mandatory Share Issuances

Matt Bruenig - Corporate Income TaxRight now, the US taxes corporate income at a statutory rate of 35 percent (the effective rate is much lower). The way this works is corporations determine what their profits are and then take 35 percent of them (actually less) and remit that money to the state. If we wanted to build up the wealth fund quickly, we could replace the corporate income tax with mandatory share issuances.

There are two ways to do this. The first way, favored by Dean Baker, is to have companies give a one-time grant of shares to the government equal to whatever we think an appropriate tax rate would be. So, instead of taxing corporate income at 20 percent, we could have each corporation give the state shares equal to 20 percent of its outstanding shares. This would make the state the 20 percent owner of the company and would entitle it to 20 percent of the dividends, buybacks, and any other payouts to shareholders.

The second way, favored by Rudolf Meidner, is to have companies give an annual grant of shares to the government equal to some percent of their annual profits. So, instead of taxing corporate income at 20 percent every year, we would have companies give over shares equal in value to whatever their corporate income tax liability would be that year. So, if a company had profits of $100 million, the 20 percent mandatory share issuance would require them to give the state shares equal to $20 million. This is a much more aggressive strategy than the one favored by Baker because, in the long-run, it would result in far more of the company’s equity getting transferred into the social wealth fund.

–Matt Bruenig
Nickel-and-Dime Socialism

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/15/corporate-income-tax-share-issuances/

Feb 14

Transubstantiation of Elvis

Elvis PresleyIn 1992, I went to Hong Kong for the first time. I was sitting in the back of a little Irish pub. And I was pretty drunk. And in walks a Chinese Elvis impersonator in a white jumpsuit studded to the ridiculous extreme that we are all accustom to. Holding an acoustic guitar, he performs “Hound Dog,” collects tips and leaves. You got all that, right? Hong Kong, Irish pub, Elvis. The next day I wasn’t sure myself. I had to ask my colleagues, and they confirmed it: I did in fact see a Chinese Elvis do “Hound Dog” in an Irish pub in Hong Kong. Many people go their entire lives without ever experiencing something as magical.

I love Elvis and even more, I love Elvis Culture. In a sense, Elvis is America: a drug addict who wanted Nixon to make him an undercover DEA agent; a white guy who made millions off the work of poor blacks; and a country rube who somehow connects to a universal audience. In addition to all of this, the music is just fantastic. But it’s the Vegas act silliness that drives the culture. Although I do not particularly like watching Elvis at that stage of his career, I do like what it has spawned. I never would have gone to see one of those shows, but I’d thrill to see Elvis impersonators.

So when I noticed that the film Almost Elvis was available on Netflix, I had to watch it. It isn’t a great film, but it is fascinating. It follows a group of Elvis Impersonators as they compete for the “Images of Elvis” prize for the best Elvis impersonator in the world. It focuses on Irv Cass, a professional from Michigan. Little did I know it, but there is a network of Elvis impersonators throughout the world. If you want one, you call up EEN (Elvis Entertainment Network) and they will send one out. Cass is one them, and seems to make a decent living doing it:

Cass is very free with his opinions of the competition. Since he was one of the most established people in the field at that time, he knows them all. He’s rather good at talking about their strengths and weaknesses. In this way, he nicely systematizes what it is to be an Elvis impersonator. And this brings up probably the most interesting part of the film: race. One of the top people in the field is Robert Washington, who is a black man. Mostly everyone is very respectful of him. But they also admit that he doesn’t look like Elvis because of his race.

But here’s the thing. I don’t think that any of the impersonators looks like Elvis the man. If you take away the hair and the sideburns and the outfits, they just look like random white guys. So really, when we are talking about Elvis, we aren’t really talking about his face. Elvis isn’t a person anymore; he’s an archetype. So to me, it is all about getting up on stage with “the look” (hair, burns, suit) and moving and sounding like Elvis. What’s more, in Washington’s case, he isn’t all that black. Until people started talking about it, I just thought he was really tanned.

All the people said the same thing: I question whether Washington will ever win the title, not because I don’t like him, but because of the judges being, well, racist. This is typical: people generally think their neighbors are more racist than they actually are. At the end of the film, Washington came in second. The good news is he later won the event. Check him out; he’s great:

An academic interviewed for the film referred to the “transubstantiation of Elvis” to explain why people want more than just the music. The music is enough for me. But he’s right: these guys do become The King. And that’s pretty great.

Permanent link to this article: http://franklycurious.com/wp/2017/02/14/transubstantiation-of-elvis/

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