Halloween Is the Best Holiday but I’ve Kinda Given Up

Halloween: Trick or Treat?It’s Halloween, and that means that by the Frankly Curious Terms of Service, I am required to say: Halloween is my favorite holiday. But the truth is that I am being let down by our society. Halloween could be so much better!

When I was a kid, it was so much better. I remember being on the street with my parents and there being kids everywhere. And then, starting in the late 1960s, every year the local news reported on how dangerous the holiday supposedly was. People gave out candy with poison and razor blades! Most of this was folklore.

What’s more, in as much as it was true, it was based on the folklore. For example, most of the razor blade stories seem to be children putting razor blades in apples and then showing what they “found” in their apples to their parents. And the cases of poisonings have been people murdering children and trying to make it look like some random act. Sick, but hardly the fault of Halloween or, more to the point, society.

Social Decay and the End of Halloween

And that’s the problem with the holiday: we’ve lost the necessary social cohesion to make the holiday great.

For the last several years, the only trick-or-treat child I get is the little boy who lives across the street. And I have been giving out regular-sized bars for a couple of decades. Kids really should want to come to my house!

I understand the fear of parents. Just the same, so much is lost. What’s more, those parents could protect their children by getting to know their neighbors. That’s part of the same thing. It’s all about fear of these unknown people.

Now, I understand that this is hard to do. And our economic situation is a big part of it. We now live in a nation that requires both parents to work. A large fraction of the nation is far too busy just getting by to spend time getting to know the neighbors. And income inequality puts barriers between people. So my disappointment is not focused on how individuals act but on how our society forces them to act.

Still, it sucks. Some of my best memories of my second marriage are our Halloween events. We loved decorating the place. I was always big on creating ghosts — probably because they are the most friendly of scary things. And now, I find I can’t even bother. It was easier with a partner. Even if no kids showed up, at least we had fun with it.

There’s a price to pay for our lack of trust in each other. It’s about more than a holiday — even one as gloriously silly as Halloween.

Halloween Movies That Will Make You Feel Undead

Halloween MoviesGood morning everyone! It seems I have gotten back my evil will to live — others call it their “groove.” And just in time because it is the best holiday of the year: Halloween! And I thought I would share with you a few wonderful clips from my favorite Halloween movies.

The Bride of Frankenstein

Okay: I have to make a disclosure. My favorite Halloween movies really aren’t scary. When I was eight years old, I stayed up late with my older sister to watch Creature Features. They were showing The Bride of Frankenstein. And I was so afraid, that I vomited. Now, of course, I find it one of the most charming films ever made. The monster is not frightening. If you treat him well, he’ll be nice to you. He just wants to be loved!

There is so much to love in the film. But the ending really does sum everything up, “Friend? Friend?” Not that he can’t be riled, as he is soon enough.

The House on Haunted Hill

This one is pure fun. But again, when I was kid, I was very frightened by it. The following video is of the entire The House on Haunted Hill. But I have it set at the very ending because it is so ridiculous. When Vincent Price appears out of the shadows with his preposterous contraption for controlling the skeleton, lesser minds think, “That’s stupid!” But the evolved know that it makes perfect sense that a man would have a small pool of acid and a skeleton marionette. Right?!

The Last Man on Earth

Before Night of the Living Dead there was The Last Man on Earth. In fact, George Romero has said that he was inspired by the film (and the book by Richard Matheson). When I was very young (six or seven), it seemed that The Last Man on Earth was always being played on Creature Features. Now I’ll admit: it isn’t as good a film in terms of narrative. But it terrified me as a child. “Morgan, come out!”

What’s remarkable is just how beautifully the film is shot. I recommend watching it just as an exercise in the craft of filmmaking. The whole film is there.

Bride of the Monster

Okay, Bride of the Monster is a hard film to watch all the way through. People say that Ed Wood was a terrible director. He wasn’t. But he didn’t worry too much about the scripts that he wrote. Most people don’t know this, but Wood published over 80 novels in his life. He was a writing machine — apparently because quality wasn’t that important to him. But he was capable of great work. And that is well on display in this star scene with Bela Lugosi.

Best of the Halloween Movies: A Comedy of Terrors

Of course, I’ve never been a big Lugosi fan. I love Boris Karloff. And we’ve already had one of his films. Also: two with Vincent Price. And one film written by one of the greats, Richard Matheson. So why don’t we throw in Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone and enjoy a whole film, A Comedy of Terrors. It is not at all frightening. It probably wouldn’t even have been to 8-year-old Frank. But it’s wonderful:

Have a wonderful holiday all of you! Use it as an excuse to enjoy some great old Halloween movies. Let’s finish with a song:

The Pleasures of Growing Old

Old People in NaplesI thought that I should check in, what with my last post being all about death. Not that one should mistake me thinking of death as a bad thing. Death is our victory over the evil will. But many people do think of it in negative terms. That post wasn’t really about death anyway. It was about pain, which I do think the ultimate evil. That’s why the will is so awful: it makes us continue to accept pain. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about growing old.

I just spent three wonderful hours watching A Passage to India. It wasn’t my first viewing. I saw it roughly three decades ago and I recall liking it — but not like this. I’m going to write about the film tomorrow (most likely). Now I just want to mention how one needs to grow into a lot of works of art. That’s definitely the case here. What I suspect I appreciated then was the nice story where things turn out well for all the characters we care about.

This time, I more appreciated the film’s visual style and its formal elements. I’ll discuss that later — or at least some of it. But it’s interesting how I have to learn to appreciate things. It was the same way with writing. I was probably 30 years old before I even started to hear the language. I think for a mind like mine, math is easier because it is deductive. The beauty is pure. But the beauty of English requires far greater knowledge.

Last night, I was reading an article by Alex Nichols. He wrote something that quite amused me that would have left me cold 30 years ago:

JRR Tolkien said that “cellar door” was the most beautiful phonetic phrase the English language could produce. “BuzzFeed Hamilton Slack,” by contrast, may be the most repellent arrangement of words in any tongue.

It’s nice to grow older. Your body may fail you. You aren’t the quick wit you used to be. But you’ve marinated for so long that you can appreciate more things in life. It’s a very good thing. It makes the will seem not quite so evil.

Death and the Last 48 Hours

DeathThe last 48 hours have been very difficult and it’s got me thinking about death. We had a serious medical issue in the family. (I don’t want to go into detail because this is one of those rare cases where I have some sense of decorum.) Everything is fine now. But I still feel like I’m shell-shocked. I can’t seem to grab hold of my usual view of the world. Everything seems distant, and I just want to go to bed even though I’m not tired.

There is a difference between the intellectual and the emotional. One can, for example, look to one’s eventual death with calm detachment. That’s certainly what I do. But if someone where to pull out a gun and put it to my head, I suspect that I would freak out. I always hope that when death comes, I’ll be like Jeff Goldblum at the end of The Fly. But I suspect not.

That’s such a great moment when he grabs the barrel of the gun and places it to his head. But generally, we all want to fight to the very end. That’s because we aren’t driven by rationality. Schopenhauer was right: there is this will to live and it exists only for its own sake, regardless of what we — as relatively rational beings — want.

All of this comes to mind because of the pain and suffering of others. It’s made me change my thinking on how I want to die. Before, I’ve always wanted to slip away easily and most definitely nonviolently. But now I think a sudden and unexpected death would absolutely be the way to go. After all, it isn’t really death that we dread; it’s the idea of death. If I just disappeared right now, that would be great! Here and gone — nothing to worry about.

Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about. But I don’t think I’m going to post anything for the rest of the day. I do hope that by the time you read this, I’ll be feeling more connected to life. But all this thinking about death has not made me morose. Continuing to live requires an act of faith — the belief that somehow it is all worth it. And right now, I’m not really feeling it. I’m pretty sure intellectually that it isn’t — as usual. But I’ve always had a strong (And evil!) will that makes me get out of bed each morning.

Here’s hoping that it returns tomorrow!

A Tale of Two Protests in a Racist Country

Dakota Access Pipeline ProtestIs there anything that shows the bias and prejudice in our current criminal justice system than, on the same day, seeing the acquittal of an all-white group of men who illegally took over a federal facility and actively encouraged the potential use of violence while peaceful protesters who are defending sacred Indian land that is theirs by treaty get shot and arrested in order to allow big business to build a pipeline through their land?

The Bundy group was treated with kid-gloves and were eventually arrested peaceably. It was a remarkable show of restraint by law enforcement that worked out in the end. But, because it did end so peaceably, it perhaps made it easier to acquit them. Those peacefully protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline have been met with a declaration of a state of emergency by the governor that mobilized the National Guard, allowed the use of outside police forces, and the deployment of militarized police vehicles. This is a stark contrast to the treatment of the Bundy group that occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge headquarters.

—m2c4
Two Faces Of American Justice — Bundy Acquittal And Dakota Pipeline Protests

James Comey and the Continued Trial By Innuendo

James ComeyThe big news yesterday was that the FBI is going to further investigate Hillary Clinton about her email server. The Washington Post was typical of the angle of the coverage, Computer Seized in Weiner Probe Prompts FBI to Take New Steps in Clinton Email Inquiry. I think this is deceptive. Is this actually how the causality works? I think it’s the opposite. I think it’s more like this:

After months of attacks on FBI Director James Comey, he was looking for any reason at all to bolster his reputation in the Republican Party — the party that he belongs to. So when email files were found on a computer used by Weiner’s wife and Clinton aide, Huma Abedin, they pounced. The odds that there is anything here are minuscule.

The whole thing is entirely in keeping of all the Clinton scandals: innuendo and no substance. The FBI hasn’t gone through the files that they found. They don’t even know if the files they have are all duplicates of files they already had. But that didn’t stop James Comey from telling Congress that the FBI would take “appropriate investigative steps.” In a vacuum, that wouldn’t mean much. Less that two weeks before the election, it simply soils Clinton without any way for Clinton to defend herself nor any time for the FBI to finish its new investigation.

Working the Refs

There is a more charitable way to look at all this, of course. After all that Comey has been through, he wants to make sure that he protects himself. But it all comes to the same thing. The Republicans are the masters of working the refs. Thus far, there has been no real story about the FBI’s decision that there was nothing to prosecute Clinton over. But that hasn’t stopped the right wing from claiming that James Comey is absolutely part of some evil Democratic conspiracy.

The media play right along with it. After all, the media were the original referees that the Republicans got so good at working. They are the ones that fold at the slightest hint of disapproval — at least when it comes from conservatives.

But the truth is: the damage is done. All of Trump’s horrendous behavior and incoherent policies are so yesterday’s news. There is a new story out now! And the fact that there is almost nothing known actually makes it worse for Clinton. This, of course, is why the Clinton campaign is demanding that the FBI release any information it has.

James Comey Didn’t Say Anything Important

Comey’s letter basically said nothing. This is the most important part of it:

Although the FBI cannot yet assess whether or not this material may be significant, and I cannot predict how long it will take us to complete this additional work, I believe it is important to update your Committees about our efforts in light of my previous testimony.

In short: I don’t know a damned thing but I’m terrified by you nut-jobs.

This is no way to run a democracy. I suspect that Comey’s banal letter won’t change the outcome of the election. People’s minds are made up. The people who care already “know” that Clinton is guilty of this and anything else you might want to name. But it does hurt her and just adds fuel to the fire of the crazies.

Short-Term Thinking: The Problem With Republicans

Long- and Short-Term ThinkingThe spectacle of Republicans coming up with a new reason for not allowing the late Justice Scalia’s seat to be filled is funny in its way. Greg Sargent summed it up in an article yesterday, Republicans: The Next President Should Fill Scalia’s Seat. Correction: The Next Republican President Should. As he noted, “What’s really striking here is how effortlessly the rationale that Senate Republicans themselves offered — for months and months on end — for not acting on Garland this year has been tossed out the window.” It does show that they lack any kind of base ideology other than the gaining of power so that they can give more money to their rich backers. But more important is that it shows how focused they are on short-term thinking.

This is nothing new. Remember the last debt ceiling rise? John Boehner sacrificed his political career (not much of a sacrifice, but still) in order to get the debt ceiling raised. Paul Ryan just became Speaker of the House. So the Republicans used that as cover for doing this. But in 2017, what will the Republicans do? It’s always short-term thinking with them. They just want to get through the next term — and sometimes just the next day or two. It’s really amazing to watch.

Long History of Republican Short-Term Thinking

But we can go back much further to see the short-term thinking of the Republicans. Their entire strategy to gain power is based on white Christian resentment. And this made sense during the years of Reagan and the elder Bush. But even at that time, they should have known that they needed to start pivoting. They haven’t. It took them until after losing the 2012 election to even think about serious outreach to Latinos. But there are two important things about that. First, that was all about immigration reform — something their rich donors want. Second, they did nothing about it.

The truth is that they are unwilling to risk upsetting their rabid but declining base. Again: it’s short-term thinking. If ever they had an opportunity to sacrifice the short-term for the long-term, it was this election. But instead, they clung on to the hope that they could win the presidency. They really seem as though they think that if they can just get control of Washington for 4 years, they can enact everything they want and the future will be saved. Just four years and they can roll back all that horrible (Popular!) legislation from the last 80-odd years and finally America will be its True Self.

Do Republicans Even Have a Long-Term Plan?

It really isn’t clear what the Republicans want to do beyond rolling back the New Deal and Great Society — allowing ever more money to be funneled to the rich. I suspect that they don’t actually have any other ideas. Even conservative intellectuals seem focused on what’s supposedly wrong with liberal policy rather than what is right with conservative policy. (There might be a reason for that!)

There is something infantile about Republicans. You probably know about the Marshmallow Challenge. It’s a test given to children to see how long they are willing to put off immediate reward to get a greater one. (See Alfie Kohn on the problems with the test.) Something similar is going on with the Republicans. They aren’t willing to accept even the smallest amount of pain to look out for the long-term health of their party. It’s short-term thinking — always.

It’s an America Problem

But maybe the real fools are the Democrats. The truth is, the American people don’t seem to notice. Imagine if Donald Trump became president and tanked the economy. In 2020, the Democrats would likely regain power (assuming things hadn’t stabilized). But we would be at another (worse) normal. And if the economy went into recession in 2024, the thoughtful American voter would put the Republicans back in power. It isn’t just the Republican Party that suffers from short-term thinking.

Greg Mankiw: Lost in Theory, Counting Money

Nathan Robinson on Greg MankiwEconomist Gregory Mankiw is very pleased to have been gouged by a scalper, he informs us in a recent New York Times column. Mankiw recently went to see the Broadway musical Hamilton, and paid the going rate for a ticket: $2,500. Yet he was far from dismayed at having paid this extraordinary sum. In fact, he describes those who object to price-gouging as “pernicious.”

That’s because Mankiw adopts the standard economist’s view on exorbitant prices for goods: where the layman sees gouging, the economist sees the sublime operation of the law of supply and demand. As Mankiw says, “terms like ‘scalping’ and ‘price gouging’ are pejoratives used to demonize those who resell tickets at whatever high prices the market will bear.” …

He gives a parallel example. In 2009, Jay Leno decided that what unemployed auto workers needed the most was free tickets to a Jay Leno concert. So he gave them a bunch of tickets, which many of them promptly tried to sell on eBay for $800 each. Leno was horrified. But Mankiw thinks Leno should have been pleased…

The free market reveals what each individual values, and how much they value it. If I keep my Jay Leno ticket, rather than selling it, it is because I value the experience of seeing Jay Leno more than $800. If my coworker sells his ticket, it is because he prefers the money. Everyone gets what they want the most, as the market efficiently satisfies our preferences.

Yet when economists tell this fable, they neglect a single crucial fact: some people are wealthier than other people. The reason Mankiw loves price hikes is that they don’t affect him, because he has so much money that he doesn’t really care what price he pays for a Hamilton ticket. Wealth confers the ability to jump to the front of the line, bypassing those who may want to see the show far more but who have less money to spend on theater tickets…

The situation surely differed depending on the unemployed workers’ personal finances… In each instance, the outcome does not reflect how much the workers want their tickets, but how financially desperate they are. Thus what Mankiw sees as a measure of preference is in fact largely a measure of hardship. Economic outcomes aren’t a product of what people value, but how much money they have to throw around.

—Nathan Robinson
Do Economists Actually Know What Money Is?

Aboriginal Sex Worker Playing Cards

Aboriginal Sex Workers Playing Card: People with HIV are still our mobWhen I was in Mexico, I was forced to take a long walk in heavy humidity in order to have lunch with a group of humans I didn’t know. Not exactly my idea of a good time. On the way back, we stopped at a hotel gift shop. It was air conditioned. (Fun fact: I know only three phrases in Chinese and one of them is for “air conditioning.”) But to my delight, I found a pack of playing cards. This being Mexico, it was not a new pack of cards. And it wasn’t from Mexico. It was the Play Your Cards Right! deck created for aboriginal sex workers in Australia.

According to the package, “This project was developed by South Western Sydney, Western Sydney and Wentworth Area Health Services, Daruk Aboriginal Medical Service and Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation and funded by NSW Health Department.” The link above states that they were developed by “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths aged 16-25 years.” The face cards feature nice images of the “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.” And most cards have helpful advice like, “Injecting methadone wrecks your veins.” Some might mock this. I think it is a wonderful tool to help improve public health.

Why Aboriginal Sex Workers?

Aboriginal Sex Workers Playing Card: People with HIV are still our mobAt first I wondered why it was focused on Aboriginal sex workers. Then it hit me: because they are poor. That’s not to say that there aren’t other reasons for it. But most people end up in the sex trade because they don’t have better options. And it makes me despair for humanity. Those peoples who were invaded centuries ago still suffer from those acts of war. Socially, we might have grown so that we see that such plundering was wrong. But we refuse to do anything that would set things right. Our focus on property and the myth of meritocracy make us think that it would somehow be wrong to make restitution for our bloody history.

But the world is the way it is. And good people do what they can. I think these playing cards are fantastic. People use playing cards. And so information can be transmitted in a very friendly, unthreatening way. It’s certainly the case that drug addicts and sex workers often depend upon folk wisdom from other drug addicts and sex workers. And often it isn’t the best information. So I think this is just great.

Playing Cards

The cards were originally released in 2005. But as recently as last year, Illawarra Interagency reported, “The popular resource Play Your Cards Right! has had another print run and HARP have plenty to give away.” So people want the cards. I haven’t found any studies or anything about how successful they have been at educating Aboriginal sex workers. But it seems like a good (And cheap!) project.

In 2003, a similar set of cards were put out that focused on drug users. You can see an image of them at My Playing Card Collection. The owner of that site, Virginia Russell, says, “They look to me as though they are an adaption of an originally African design. The face cards don’t look Aboriginal at all.” I trust her. For one thing: I looked at them. For another: she knows a lot about playing cards! It’s nice that Play Your Cards Right! was produced by the Aboriginal community itself.

The Yale Record Doesn’t Endorse Clinton

Yale Record Doesn't Endorse ClintonIn its 144-year history, The Yale Record has never endorsed a Democratic candidate for president. In fact, we have never endorsed any candidate for president. This is, in part, due to our strong commitment to being a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization, which mandates that we are “absolutely prohibited from directly or indirectly participating in, or intervening in, any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for elective public office.”

This year’s presidential election is highly unusual, but ultimately no different: The Yale Record believes both candidates to be equally un-endorsable, due to our faithful compliance with the tax code.

In particular, we do not endorse Hillary Clinton’s exemplary leadership during her 30 years in the public eye. We do not support her impressive commitment to serving and improving this country — a commitment to which she has dedicated her entire professional career. Because of unambiguous tax law, we do not encourage you to support the most qualified presidential candidate in modern American history, nor do we encourage all citizens to shatter the glass ceiling once and for all by electing Secretary Clinton on November 8.

The Yale Record has no opinion whatsoever on Dr Jill Stein.

—The Editorial Board of The Yale Record
The Yale Record Does Not Endorse Hillary Clinton

Multiplying Even and Odd Numbers

Odd NumbersI hope you will forgive me for writing about math today. Last night, I was lying in bed thinking about the numbers 7 and 11. I had been listening to a podcast with Ezra Klein and Molly Ball. Ball had mentioned that the number of white Christians in the United States had gone from (I think!) 54 percent when Obama came into office and that it was 47 percent now. Klein must have misheard her, because he later referred to it being an 11 percentage point drop. But that was why I was thinking about the two numbers — 7 percentage points is the actual number.

These numbers are interesting in that they are consecutive primes. And being so, they hold a certain fascination for me. But it got me thinking about the number 9. Nine is not a prime, since it reduces to 3×3. And then something occurred to me that I’d never thought about before: two odd numbers multiplied always create an odd number.

I know this is obvious, but since when has that ever stopped me? Why is it that odd numbers multiplied are always odd?

Multiplying Even Numbers

Let’s start with an easier question: why are even numbers multiplied always even? That’s almost definitional. An even number is any whole number divisible by 2. So if you have two even numbers x and y, you know that both x/2 and y/2 must be whole numbers. Thus, for example:

2×(x/2)×y

Note that it doesn’t matter if y is even. Thus: an even number times any number will be even.

Multiplying Odd Numbers

Looking at two odd numbers is more interesting. Or I think it is. Let’s stick with our variables above. Now we have two odd numbers: x+1 and y+1. If we multiply them, we get the following:

(x+1)×(y+1) = x×y + x + y + 1

Given that x and y are even, we know that x×y is even. So we have: even plus even plus even plus one. The whole thing doubles back on itself: we defined our odd numbers as evens plus one. And that’s what we get here.

Using Addition

Another way to think about it is via addition. This is the way that ought to come more naturally. Multiplication is, after all, just addition. Four times three is just 3+3+3+3. Sadly, math is usually taught so badly that people don’t think in this way. So people end up thinking that addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division are four different things when they are all just one really simple thing: addition.

Thinking in this way, (x+1)×(y+1) would be the number y+1 added x+1 times. I would show you how this all works with a series, but doing so requires more typesetting ability than I have here. But think about it. If you add an odd number an even number of times, you will get an even number. So when you add that odd number one more time, it makes the even number odd.

The beautiful thing about math is that this is all intuitive. I didn’t have to work out the steps in my mind. It all looks awful on the page. In the mind, it’s comforting. Of course, I did have to get out of bed. I figured if I didn’t write down the idea, I would forget to write this article. Then wouldn’t you all be sorry…

Amanda Glaze on Evolution and the Nature of Science

Amanda GlazeResearch shows that people in the South are 84 percent less likely than their counterparts in other parts of the country to learn about evolution, or to learn about it in a way that is accurate. Similarly, studies such as my quant study in preservice teachers and Laura Rissler’s study of undergrads in Alabama show that religiosity is a strong negative factor that impacts acceptance of evolution.

When looking at other studies in the United States, mostly done in places in the Northeast (Indiana, New York), the levels of acceptance are quite low overall. However, the South boasts a population that is more closely aligned with the literal interpretation of Genesis (including creationism and Young Earth Creationism) that many cite as their reason for rejecting evolution. It also tends to show a higher impact of religious beliefs as a predictor of acceptance or rejection of evolution compared to other locations…

What bothers me is the lack of understanding about what science actually does.

Science doesn’t consider God as a possible answer to any question whatsoever because God is a metaphysical construct and thus not part of the physical world. And science by definition cannot consider anything metaphysical or supernatural as an explanation.

Science is not out there trying to disprove the existence of God — we can’t even consider that.

I really don’t care what people believe as long as they understand the science.

—Amanda Glaze
Teaching Evolution in the South: an Educator on the “War for Science Literacy”