Maybe It’s Time Israel Learned Some Manners

Benjamin NetanyahuAs you probably heard, on Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported, Israel Spied on Iran Nuclear Talks With US. And they used the information they got to funnel it the Congressional Republicans in an effort to destroy the deal. This resulted in Israel stating unequivocally that they do not spy, Netanyahu’s Office Denies Nuke Talks Snooping. But it was a curious denial. It’s kind of like being accused of robbing a 7-11 store and responding, “I’ve never killed anyone in my life!” The information that was being used so inappropriately is not technically spying. And the real sin here is that the Israeli government is actively trying to screw with our foreign affairs — just like all of us liberals have been saying the last few weeks.

But it is worse than that. At The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald and Andrew Fishman wrote, Netanyahu’s Spying Denials Contradicted by Secret NSA Documents. You know, those Snowden leaks are the gift that keeps on giving. All throughout these NSA documents are discussions of what a threat Israeli spying is on the United States. They are ranked third after Russia and China. A lot of this is exactly what we are seeing with the Iranian negotiations. It would seem that the Israeli government is quite paranoid, despite the fact that it couldn’t have a more constant and true ally.

Interestingly, another problem is that Israel does a lot of industrial espionage focused on us. That doesn’t come as a surprise to me. Last year, I wrote, Spam Geography at Frankly Curious. In it, I described a method I had developed to determine whether a visitor was a real person or a spammer. Users coming from the US, UK, Canada, and India are pretty much all real. So are the vast majority of users from Indonesia. But Israel, which I would have guessed then would also have been mostly real, was as big a spammer as the eastern European countries. In fact, Russia is actually substantially better than Israel.

The fact that Israel isn’t quite as “western” as we’ve been led to believe isn’t that big a deal. But Israel’s behavior toward the United States is really unacceptable. It reminds me of a younger brother who is always depending upon his older brother to protect him. Yet the younger brother does everything he can to undermine his older brother. This is exactly the dynamic I created between Steve and Darren in “The Post-Postmodern Comedy Hour.” Except that in it, Darren (the “younger brother”) is a puppet and he gets his comeuppance at the end of every episode. Darren wouldn’t be a likable character in real life.

We don’t know about what Israel is up to just based upon the NSA leaks. The Intercept also noted:

Previously reported stories on Israeli spying, by themselves, leave no doubt how false Netanyahu’s statement is. A Der Spiegel article from last fall revealed that “Israeli intelligence eavesdropped on US Secretary of State John Kerry during Middle East peace negotiations.” A Le Monde article described how NSA documents strongly suggest that a massive computer hack of the French presidential palace in 2012 was likely carried out by the Israelis. A 2014 article from Newsweek’s Jeff Stein revealed that when it comes to surveillance, “the Jewish state’s primary target” is “America’s industrial and technical secrets” and that “Israel’s espionage activities in America are unrivaled and unseemly.”

I don’t know where all of this leaves me with regard to Israel. It’s been clear to me for a long time that the Israeli government has no interest in a two-state solution because of the way that it has encouraged the illegal settlements. More and more I’m thinking that the United States is more than enough of a safe haven for the worldwide Jewish population. Maybe Zionism just leads to the kind of conservative jingoism that Israel now represents. I’m not suggesting that we abandon Israel. But big brother is starting to think of little brother as a selfish brat who needs to learn some manners. Maybe a couple non-vetoes on the Security Council might help the Israeli government to grow up.

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About Ted Cruz’s Music Taste

Ted CruzAs you may have heard, Ted Cruz used to be into “classic rock.” But after 9/11, he said, “I didn’t like how rock music responded.” But he was very happy with the jingoistic response of “country music.” So since that time, he’s listened just to country music. A lot of people have mocked this change on his part. Jonathan Chait wrote, After 9/11, True Patriot Ted Cruz Sacrificed His Love of Rock Music for America and the Republican Party. He questioned whether it isn’t all just for show. Ed Kilgore was even less charitable, Ted Cruz’s Friends in Low Places. He wrote, “It all seems kind of mechanical and unimaginative for a man of Cruz’s supposed brilliance…” I agree with all this. Count me with Holden Caulfield: Ted Cruz is a phony.

But I’m interested in this subject from a personal perspective. At the time of 9/11, Ted Cruz was 30 years old. That’s about the time that a lot of people have a falling out with rock music. Yesterday, my business partner Will told me that he was shocked to find out that Cruz is younger than we are. “He just seems so old!” He is the political operative that Rafael Cruz built — more automaton than human. And for Rafael — born in 1939, I believe — that places his image of a politician in the 1950s. Thus it isn’t surprising that Ted Cruz has the feel of Joseph McCarthy.

The people I’ve known who switched from rock music to country music were never that interested in music to begin with. They were interested in what I term “pop rock” and then they went onto “pop country.” What is the difference between The Romantics and Garth Brooks? Slide guitar. (I know these are old references; I don’t stay up on this drivel!) It’s all so pathetic. That’s not to say that musical tastes don’t change, but they are usually gradual and based on, you know, music and not politics.

Do you know who I can totally see making decisions about art based solely on ideological considerations? Joseph Goebbels. Now, I’m not saying that Cruz is a Nazi, because he isn’t. He’s certainly a lot closer to Hitler than to Thomas Paine, but that doesn’t make him a Nazi. Proto-fascist perhaps, but not Nazi. The main thing is that he’s an ideologue. Everything seems to take a backseat to his political aspirations. So I think we can reasonably say that Ted Cruz doesn’t care much for music, film, or any other kind of art or entertainment. Or as he might say, “That art is good which leads to success, and that is bad which fails to achieve the desired result.”

I would love to think that this means that Ted Cruz would not win the “have a beer with” election. But that’s always been more about pandering. I never understood how it was that people would rather have a beer with George W Bush — who didn’t drink — than John Kerry. They were both tiresome people who graduated from Yale. I couldn’t be less interested in having a beer with either. So I don’t doubt that the people will come to the conclusion that Ted Cruz is a “cool” guy who they’d like to hang with. But at least with Bush and Kerry, you’d know that they would have an opinion about the the song on the jukebox that wasn’t based on the political opinions of the singer or how the song focus grouped in red states.

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Morning Music: Martyrs Prayers

Martyrs PrayersOn Tuesday, I published, 35 Years Without Óscar Romero. This led to my discovering THE PROJECT: Martyrs Prayers. It is a collection of explicitly religious songs about Christian martyrs. On the CD they’ve released, there are ten songs, each about a specific martyr. Interestingly, one of them is “Clement,” which I assume is about Pope Clement I. Personally, I find Clement of Alexandria a more interesting guy — admittedly, not a martyr. But he argued against what I think of as the Saint Sebastian form of martyrdom. The question is, if you are clearly just trying to get yourself killed, are you a martyr? I don’t think so.

The martyrs on this album represent what I consider the real deal. Ultimately, most of the martyrs are political in nature. And that goes right along with my feelings about religion as being fundamentally political — at least when it comes to religion and not ontology. And as you should know, when it comes to politics, I have a great deal of faith. Because what’s the option? Applying the same thing to God isn’t much of a stretch, even if it isn’t something that I personally feel.

I’ve only heard two of the songs: the ones that they’ve produced highly evocative videos for. Interestingly, they are both assassinations. The first is the song “Becket.” But I want to highlight “Romero.” In addition to it being a beautiful song, the video includes lots of footage of Romero himself (something we don’t have for most of the others — although they do include two other 20th century martyrs). It’s really great. Give it a listen:

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Birthday Post: Jamrud Mosque Bombing

Jamrud Mosque BombingIt is the sixth anniversary of the Jamrud mosque bombing. It was a suicide bombing and at least 48 people were killed and roughly a hundred injured. According to witnesses, a boy of 15 or 16 climbed into a window, went to the main hall that was filled for Friday prayers, and he blew himself up. It was a complete horror as you can see in the photo on the left. But there are two issues that this raises in my mind.

The first is the use of children as suicide bombing. I once heard an interview with a teenage girl who was supposed to be a suicide bomber but backed out at the last minute. And her story was really tragic. Her boyfriend had been killed by the Israelis and so she was upset and mentioned that she would like to get revenge, and the people who lead these kind of thing jumped on her and pushed her into becoming a suicide bomber. It is so horrible. Like military leaders everywhere, she was just a resource to be used however they thought best in their war with the Israelis. All I can say is that warriors should fight their own wars and leave kids out of it. I realize this is not the way things work, and there is nothing any different between that and killing children. Still, I have a hard time not seeing this teenage boy as a victim as well.

The second issue is the bombing of a mosque. I’m just not clear where all our resentment of Muslims comes from. The Muslims who are politically radicalized are mostly in the business of killing other Muslims. So I just don’t see what the whole issue is with their religion. I keep coming back to Sam Harris’ line that “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas.” Really?! It’s such a bigoted and ignorant claim. His depth of thinking on Islam is about as deep as Phil Robertson’s thinking on atheism. The may thing that occurs to me is that this kind of thinking (that many atheists are very open about) is very much blaming the victim.

With deep sadness and hope that the world becomes a better place, we mark this sixth anniversary of the Jamrud mosque bombing.

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Statistics and Penis Sizes

Penis SizesI want to discuss human penis sizes. But I’m going to do my best to be dignified about it. I don’t bring it up for its shock value. It is rather that I noticed something that I think is really interesting about the subject. It all started with an Aaron Carroll post over at The Incidental Economist, Penis Size and Suicide: Two Unrelated Stories. The news about penis sizes is from a research paper in BJUI, Am I Normal? A Systematic Review and Construction of Nomograms for Flaccid and Erect Penis Length and Circumference in Up to 15,521 Men. The remarkable thing is just how unremarkable human penises are.

Let’s start with the facts. The length of erect penises are 5.17 ± 0.65 inches. The circumference of erect penises are 4.59 ± 0.43 inches. What’s interesting here is not the lengths but rather the standard deviations. What we know about a normal distribution is that 95% of all individuals will fall within plus or minus two standard deviations. So 95% of all men have penis lengths between roughly 3.9 and 6.5 inches. If you want to get way out into the weeds of pretty much everyone you’ve ever known, 99.7% of all men have penis lengths between roughly 3.2 and 7.1 inches. The girth of penises is even more constrained: 3.3 and 5.9 inches.

Now you may be wondering where Jonah Falcon fits into all of this. He apparently has a 13.5 inch long penis. Sadly, I have no data on the circumference. But 13.5 inches represents a staggering 13 standard deviations from average. To give you so idea of just how outrageous that is, seven standard deviations represent a one in 400 billion chance. And why did I quote seven and not 13? Because the error function failed in OpenOffice after seven. So basically, the odds are astronomically small.

Does that mean that the statistics from the study are wrong? No. It means that statistics just aren’t that useful when you get way out on the tail of a function. The numbers are probably about right. And what this means is that our general mythology of the penis is wrong. I’m glad to hear that. I wish we would stop mythologizing the penis altogether. I don’t think it is just a sign of my heterosexuality that I think the penis is kind of creepy. But it reminds of a joke by a female comedian decades ago, who said that of course women were bad at math because men were always telling them that this (she indicated about three inches with her fingers) was eight inches. There is undoubtedly much truth to that.

But just as the man with an eight inch penis seems to be mostly a myth (especially if he announces it), so is the idea that women don’t care about penis sizes. According to a study out of UCLA, in one-time sexual encounters, women prefer men with penis of greater girth. For long term relationships, they seem to care more about men with jobs. Be that as it may, you can read all about why this would be (it ain’t complicated) at Medical Daily, What Women Want: Penis Size Matters for One-Night Stands, but Not Long-Term Relationships.

So there you have it: all the statistics you ever wanted to have about penis sizes. As for me, I’m just glad I don’t have to strap my penis down before I go out like Jonah Falcon does. I consider it enough of a nuisance as is.

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We Should Treat Everyone Like Marty Stroud III

Liliana SeguraBy now many have read and been moved by the extraordinary mea culpa published in the Shreveport Times by a man named Marty Stroud III, who more than thirty years ago sent Glenn Ford to die for a crime he did not commit…

Yet as these narratives become more ubiquitous, they also expose a nagging hypocrisy. If we are drawn to such expressions of penitence and moral clarity, if we see them as brave or enlightened or even noble, why don’t we grant people in prison the same potential for change? Why have we abandoned rehabilitation, once supposedly central to the mission we call “corrections,” and replaced it with the longest sentences on the planet? Why do we give people who do bad things so few pathways toward redemption? Is it too much to consider that murderers in prison are as complex and human as people who kill in the name of the state? …

Even as more states abolish the death penalty, we have installed in its place different forms of permanent punishment, astoundingly long sentences that deny people’s ability to evolve — or even the human tendency to “age out” of crime. Today, one in nine US prisoners, including people convicted as juveniles, are currently serving a life sentence, according to [PDF] the Sentencing Project, and “those with parole-eligible life sentences are increasingly less likely to be released.” More people than ever are serving life with no possibility of parole — including thousands for nonviolent offenses, as the ACLU found in a major study in 2013. In Shreveport, Louisiana, where Glenn Ford was wrongly sentenced to die, a lesser known man named Sylvester Mead was sentenced to die in prison after he drunkenly threatened a cop while handcuffed in the back of a police car. As I noted at The Nation, Mead’s own trial judge argued that his offense “does not warrant, under any conscionable or constitutional basis, a life sentence.” Yet “Mead’s prosecutor appealed multiple times seeking a harsher sentence because of his old convictions.” We can try to construe this as justice. But like Marty Stroud in 1984, this was a prosecutor bent on winning…

If there is room for redemption at all — and if we are honest about addressing the crisis of mass incarceration — we must start by recognizing that the 2.3 million people we have put behind bars are no less human than the rest of us. That includes many who have done terrible things. What if we gave more prisoners a second chance, some meaningful shot at parole — an opportunity to redefine their legacy, like Marty Stroud did when he sat down to write to the Shreveport Times? What kind of human potential might they reveal? …

“Looking back at that period of time in my life, I was not a very nice person,” Marty Stroud admits about the man he was when he sent Glenn Ford to die. Few seem to doubt his sincerity. How many people in prison would say the same about their own worst mistakes? Would we listen?

—Liliana Segura
A Prosecutor Seeks Redemption. Can We Allow Prisoners the Same?

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Income Inequality Apologetics

George WillThere he was at the top of the column on “innovation” in The Washington Post — every dimwit’s idea of the ultimate innovator: Steve Jobs holding up an iPhone. I don’t really understand why it is that people always think that flashy products like smart phones are the true signs of innovation when it is actually more mundane things like container ships and washing machines that have had the biggest effects on our lives. But I know this much is true: when people talk about innovation, they are usually spouting nonsense. Talk of innovation is usually some form of apologetics for aspects of the economy that don’t work right.

The specific column I’m referring to is George Will’s Wednesday outing, How Income Inequality Benefits Everybody. He started the article by discussing how sweatshop labor in China gives Americans a raise because of all that cheap “apparel, appliances and other stuff.” That’s true as far as it goes, as I recently discussed in, Middle Class Is Dying Because of US Policy. But the really expensive and important stuff is not available via Chinese sweatshop labor. Of course, Will isn’t interested in how globalization is making us all wealthy (perhaps because it isn’t). He wants to argue that income inequality here at home is really to all our benefit.

Will is a shockingly boring writer. Here is his list of billionaires: Mark Zuckerberg, Michael Dell, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Steve Jobs. Interestingly, I have a low opinion of each one of these guys. From the non-innovation of Facebook, which is not worth nearly what it is valued at, to the tax evasion that drives Amazon, to the legal bullying that makes Apple a profitable company, these are not guys who have changed the world. Will then referred to “iPod, iPhone, and iPad” as “unique products.” That’s like calling a cool new brand of jeans a unique products. And finally, he wrote that the price of the iPhone has come down. It has not. It’s submental.

The rest of the article is an introduction to John Tamny’s upcoming book, Popular Economics: What the Rolling Stones, Downton Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You about Economics. But you don’t need to read the book — or George Will’s column — because it is just what you heard month after month during Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign. These wonderful innovators are only there to help us: “when the wealth gap widens, the lifestyle gap shrinks.” And monopolies decrease prices. And the Rolling Stones moved to France because their taxes were 83%. The implication, I guess, is that this means we must lower the top marginal tax rate to 15%. Also: cheery picked numbers rock and opportunity costs don’t exist. Also: the Rolling Stones never would have recorded Let It Bleed if they hadn’t known there were hundreds of millions of dollars to be made.

There are a couple of things that I find fascinating about these excursions into income inequality apologetics. The first is that the arguments are meant to imply conservative policy. But they don’t. People like Will and Tamny seem to be arguing with communists in the 1920s. No one is calling for a 90% top marginal tax rate. But somehow, for these people, if dropping the top tax rate from 90% to 50% is a good idea, dropping it to 15% is a better idea. It just makes no sense, but then it isn’t based about rationality; it is based upon a desire to further enrich their class. Everything flows from that.

The other interesting thing is how conservatives claimed for so long that income inequality wasn’t a thing. Sure, the rich were getting richer, but so were the poor. But now that this myth has been completely destroyed, the conservatives just come up with another argument for why we shouldn’t worry about income inequality. Now they argue that income inequality rocks! We should love it because we can buy five dollar t-shirts at Walmart. We may die from an abscessed tooth, but that’s a small price to pay for all the cheap junk we have access to.

Conservatives will always argue that we do nothing about economic inequality — or that we make it worse. The reasons for this will change. Two centuries ago, they would have argued that God wants it that way. Today they argue it is good for the poor. But the main thing is that the conclusions never change. That’s the nature of apologetics. Let’s just not mistake it for economic or political analysis.


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Middle Class Is Dying Because of US Policy

Noah SmithNoah Smith is such a brilliant guy, I have no idea why he wrote, Guess What’s Destroying the Middle Class? He started with the silliest notion that there are three reasons why middle class wages are falling: robots, unions and China. I realize that there are a lot of people who talk about this, but don’t we all know that it is a little more nuanced than that? That it isn’t that simple? If you asked me, I would say that the primary reason for falling wages is something else entirely: the new normal coming into 2001 was that middle class wages were stagnant. The difference between stagnant and falling wages is just a matter of degrees. The capitalists in America have gotten even better at siphoning off profits.

There is nothing especially new about this; it’s been going on for forty years. And robots, unions, and China are all symptoms of the larger problem. And the larger problem is that the government has had it out and continues to have it out for the middle class. Let’s do a little Dean Baker 101. High paying jobs in America moving to low paying jobs in China should also reduce the cost of living for Americans. And indeed: televisions are cheaper. But what isn’t cheaper? Healthcare, legal support, college educations. And that’s because we haven’t subjected workers in those fields to the same globalization. And that is a choice that was made by the power elite for the power elite.

Dean BakerI agree with Smith that the robots story is weak. There is a larger problem, however. Our policies allow the owners of capital to capture more and more profits. Robots help in that regard. But technological improvements were arguably as fast during the 1950s as they are today. And we did not see more and more money going to the capital side of the economy at that time. I think that unions are clearly a bigger issue. But even they aren’t huge. I still think the bigger issue is the way that norms have changed. These now allow billionaires to think they deserve their money and don’t owe anything back to society. And this has ripple effects all through the nation, not the least of which being the low taxes on the extremely wealthy.

What really amazed me about the article was Smith’s fatalism with regard to the problem. He concluded that the problem was China — and I think that’s clearly a simplistic way of looking at income inequality — was so fundamental that the only thing that we can do is nothing. “The only solution to the problem of globalization may be to wait.” Chinese wages are increasing. So soon, all those factories will move to India. And then there won’t be any super-large countries for our patriotic companies to run to. In other words: don’t worry American middle class; your wages will rise in just another forty years!

(There’s something I don’t exactly understand with this reasoning. I thought that he was using China as a metonymy for the whole of globalization. But he seems to mean it literally. And apparently, only India can take over China. Somehow, a bunch of countries in Africa wouldn’t work. I don’t understand that, but I don’t suppose it really matters.)

A big problem with the people who claim that robots or education are the only things that are responsible for economic inequality is that these reasons are used as an excuse for doing nothing — or for arguing that there is nothing that can be done. But that is the conclusion that Smith draws from his China hypothesis. And this is strange, because like I said, he’s a brilliant guy. There is no reason for fatalism. The state of the American middle class is not the result of forces beyond our control; it is the result of our own policy choices.

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Morning Music: Oh! My Pa-Pa

Mister EdWhen I was a kid, I loved the television show Mister Ed. The show ended before my second birthday, so clearly, I saw it in syndication. It is still pretty much the archetype of the kind of comedy that I most enjoy. Mister Ed is basically a puppet character. Indeed, the 1980s television show ALF was just Mister Ed with one change: ALF was a really unappealing character. Mister Ed was charming, if difficult at times.

In one episode, Mister Ed wanted to go to the circus because his father “worked” for it and he had not seen his father since he was little. (Or at all. I don’t actually remember.) For some reason, Wilbur would not take him. So in order to make Wilbur feel guilty, Mister Ed sang the song, “Oh! My Pa-Pa.” Until I was an adult, I only knew the song from Mister Ed’s repeated singing of it. This did not, however, stop me from writing my own parody of it.

The song was originally in the 1950 German musical, Der Schwarze Hecht with the title, “O Mein Papa.” But in 1954, an English translation of the song was a huge hit for pop sensation Eddie Fisher. I’m not that fond of it. But since I can’t find a version with Mister Ed singing it, I guess we are stuck with this:


I found it: “What Kind of Foal Am I.” The plot is a bit different than I remembered. But at least there is some basis for my memory.

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Birthday Post: Martin Short

Martin ShortToday, Martin Short turns the big six-five. He is, of course, one of the most brilliant comedians of the last many decades. I know him originally from SCTV, but most people know him from Saturday Night Live, I assume. Since then, I know him more as simply the best talk show guest ever. In general, when I watch something like The Daily Show, I won’t watch the interview if it is an actor or a comedian. But I always watch whatever I can from Short. He’s just delightful. He’s as quick witted as Robin Williams, but I can follow him.

One of my favorite of his characters is Nathan Thurm, the nervous sleazy lawyer. Here is a great bit where Robert F Kennedy Jr interviews him as the lawyer for “Big Oil, Inc.” It’s from roughly a decade ago. Today, it almost doesn’t play as comedy. It is so much like what climate change deniers get away with in the mainstream media. Still, it’s brilliant:

Happy birthday Martin Short!

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How Good Was Newsradio?

NewsradioI was never much of a Seinfeld fan. It was a well made and funny show, but I always find it hard to get excited about shows where I don’t like any of the characters. And Seinfeld was very much that. Even by sitcom standards, it had shallow characters. The sitcom that I liked — loved even — was Newsradio. But I don’t know if I would go as far as Todd VanDerWerff who says that, NewsRadio Was the Best Sitcom of the 1990s. Or maybe I would. But what VanDerWerff really thinks is that Newsradio was the best sitcom ever. I’m also not really interested in the question. The main thing is that Newsradio was a really, really good show.

I first watched the show because it starred Dave Foley. When I was in grad school, I was a big fan of Kids in the Hall. So it was exciting that Foley had made it to the big time. Most people no doubt watched because of Phil Hartman. But overall, it was the ensemble that worked. I immediately fell in love with Maura Tierney. And I thought that Stephen Root was one of the funniest actors I had ever seen. He has gone on to be one of my favorite character actors. The rest of the cast was excellent as well. But even without the great cast, it would have been a funny show. The writing was excellent.

What I didn’t know was just how troubled the show was. Despite initial good reviews and ratings, NBC really messed with the show. In five seasons, it was put in 11 different time slots. I’m not sure why a network would do that except if it was trying to kill a show. And for all I know it was. Hollywood is known for some of the most spiteful behavior, like network heads trying to kill off shows of predecessors. But the show managed on, even stumbling on for a season after Phil Hartman’s death.

As a result of DerWerff’s article, I went back and watched the Newsradio I could find online. The shows from the third season just blew me away. I still find them as funny as anything that I’ve ever seen. What I didn’t remember about the show was just how slapstick it is. I think I was so focused on Root’s Jimmy James and all his sly silliness, I didn’t notice, for example, Andy Dick’s amazing pratfalls. In addition, much of the writing is pure farce with people coming and going — often repeatedly to great comedic effect.

At this point in my viewing history, I would say that Newsradio is probably most like Fawlty Towers. It isn’t as tightly plotted. But then again, there were a total of 12 episodes of Fawlty Towers, produced over the course of four years. Over the exact same period of time, Newsradio produced 97 episodes. Regardless, Fawlty Towers is the pinnacle of television comedy. The fact that I can even compare Newsradio to it says a great deal about it. Yet the show still doesn’t get much respect. My public library, for example, doesn’t hold a single DVD of the show. It does, of course, overflow with Seinfeld — even though you can watch three hours of it each night in syndication on the television. It’s sad. But apparently, there are a lot of people like DerWerff and me who greatly admire the show. And that’s something.

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US Equality of Opportunity Hypocrisy

Thomas PikettyThe amount of household debt and even more recently of student debt in the US is something that is really troublesome… This exemplifies a particular problem with inequality in the United States, which is very high inequality and access to higher education. So in other countries in the developed world you don’t have such massive student debt because you have more public support to higher education. And I think the plan that was proposed earlier this year in 2015 by President Obama to increase public funding to public universities and community college is exactly justified.

This is really the key for higher growth in the future and also for a more equitable growth. There’s one statistic, which I give in my book, which is a bit frightening, which is that if you look at the average income of the parents of Harvard University graduate students right now what you get is the equivalent of the average income of the top two percent of the US distribution of family income…

So this is an example which shows that you have the official discourse about meritocracy, equal opportunity and mobility — and then you have the reality. And the gap between the two can be quite troublesome. So this is like you have a problem like this and there’s a lot of hypocrisy about meritocracy in every country, not only in the US, but there is evidence suggesting that this has become particularly extreme in the United States. And of course, student debt at the other extreme of the distribution is the other side of the coin. So this is a situation that is very troublesome and should rank very highly in the policy agenda in the future in the US.

—Thomas Piketty
Big Think

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