Morning Music: Leo Kottke

6- and 12-String Guitar - Leo KottkeI was going to get back onto my history of classical music, but it's kind of time consuming and I'm working a lot right now. Also, I was listening to Pandora the other day and a song came on that blew me away. The guitar playing was unbelievably great. So I rushed back to the computer and saw that it was Leo Kottke. That didn't surprise me. But it had been a while since I had listened to him. It's easy to forget just how awesome he is.

So let's start with a track from his first album 6- and 12-String Guitar, "Busted Bicycle." This is from a recent concert, shot on a phone. But the sound is okay and the video doesn't annoy me. What it shows is how much you can do with an open tuning. But if it weren't for his amazing right-hand picking, it just wouldn't work. That's not to say that his left hand isn't great. He makes it look easy. But then, he always does.

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Anniversary Post: SpaceShipOne

SpaceShipOneOn this day in 2004, SpaceShipOne took its last, fastest, and highest flight into space. It was the first commercial aircraft to fly in space. It was designed by Burt Rutan for his company Scaled Composites. He's an amazing guy. But the truth is that I only really know about him because I used to work for a real estate company that did most of its investing in the California desert where the company is located.

I've long wondered why it is that Elon Musk is such a big name in the world of high tech but Rutan isn't. And then I realized: Musk is a billionaire. It's not about tech. I never thought much of Musk. Other than a couple of successful — but hardly innovating — companies, what has the world gotten from him: talk. But this is America and "when you're rich, they think you really know!" It's a shame. And a sham.

But Rutan is the real deal. And he doubtless has a better life. He's been able to do what he loves. Musk shows all the signs of needing the accolades he receives. He's another Steve Jobs. And those who read me often will know that I don't mean that as a compliment.

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Don Quixote and His Sorry Face — Translation Comparison

Don Quixote - RutherfordWhen I was first deciding to read Don Quixote, I wrote a cheeky little article, About to Read Don Quixote. In it, I compared the first sentence of the prologue of the first book. And I compared how six translators had handled it. That article still gets a lot of traffic, and I feel bad about it, because it is so silly. Also: it leaves out my absolute favorite translation. And that is based on having read at least large sections of pretty much all of the translations. (There are two fairly recent ones that I've never even seen.)

At some point in the first book, Sancho coins a name for Don Quixote: "el Caballero de la triste figura." This means "the Knight of the sad figure." But most modern translators take "figure" to mean "face." In the book, Don Quixote likes this moniker very much. It goes along with the silly convention of chivalric romances that knights are love sick and wandering around doing great deeds to impress the objects of their affection. Don Quixote, of course, is an old man. Cervantes was 58 when he wrote the first part, and so I've always assumed the character was meant to be the same age. So it is particularly funny: a love sick 58 year old.

As I was reading my favorite translation by John Rutherford, I was struck that he translated it in a way no one else had: the knight of the sorry face. That goes right along with Rutherford's approach to the novel. Don Quixote was a laugh riot for people of his time, and Rutherford was determined to squeeze every drop of humor out of the book. This is why it's my favorite translation. When I pick up Samuel Putnam's translation, I don't usually laugh. I do with Rutherford. And "sorry face" is just brilliant.

But is it an accurate translation? Well, that I will leave to greater minds than mine. The question is more what exactly we want from a translation. The second book of Don Quixote was published 400 years ago this year. The Spanish in it is archaic. I don't spend much time with it, and yet I commonly find words that simply aren't in a modern Spanish dictionary. But as a reader, do you really want a translation that most accurately conveys the words? I think you want a translation that accurately conveys the experience. I certainly think that if Cervantes were alive today, he would choose Rutherford's translation over all the others.

But still, since I went to the trouble of going through all my English translations of Don Quixote, I figured I would provide a table of how each edition of the book translated Don Quixote's sorry face:

Year Translator "triste figura"
1620 Shelton "rueful countenance"[1]
1700 Motteux "woeful figure"
1742 Jervas "sorrowful figure"
1755 Smollett "rueful countenance"
1885 Ormsby "rueful countenance"
1949 Putnam "mournful countenance"
1950 Cohen "sad countenance"
1957 Starkie "rueful figure"
1996 Raffel "sad face"
2003 Rutherford "sorry face"
2005 Grossman "sorrowful face"

I am required to add at this point, what I tell anyone who asks: the best translation to read is whichever one happens to be around. I used to say, "Except Motteux." But I don't even say that anymore. It's a great book that you should read — not because it will enrich you, but because you will enjoy it.

[1] I'm not certain of this. I don't have a clean copy of Shelton, but rather one of the many revisions of him. I'm skeptical that he would have picked up on the implication of it being his face.

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What We Liberals Want From Economic Policy

Mark ThomaWhat we are opposed to, or what I am opposed to — guess I should speak for myself — is growth where all the benefits are captured by those at the top. Imperfections in economic institutions along with changes in the rules of the game pushed forward by those with political influence have caused those at the top to be rewarded in excess of their contribution to economic output, while those at the bottom have gotten less than their contribution. It's not "taking" to increase taxes at the top and return income to those who actually earned it, to the real makers who toil each day at jobs they'd rather not do to support their families. It's a daily struggle for many, a struggle that would be eased if they simply earned an amount equivalent to their contributions. That's why it's so "politically unattractive," people explicitly or implicitly understand they have been, for lack of a better word, screwed by the system. The blame is sometimes misplaced, but that doesn't change the nature of the problem. They don't want "free stuff," they want what they deserve, and there is nothing whatsoever wrong with that.

The other thing I'm opposed to is tax cuts for those at the top that make this problem even worse without delivering any corresponding benefits. These tax cuts redistribute income upward and cause the income received by workers to fall even further below their contribution, and there's no corresponding benefit to economic growth (or if there is, it's very, very small). We keep hearing that putting money in the hands of the "makers" at the top will produce magical growth, but the reality is that these are the true takers, the ones who are receiving far more from the economy than they contribute, while those who actually work their butts off each day to make the things we all need and enjoy struggle to pay their bills.

—Mark Thoma
'Jeb Goes Galt'

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Democrats Pushing Back Against Democratic Corporate Stooges

Elizabeth WarrenOn Tuesday, I saw what might seem like a very boring article over at Reuters, Brookings Fellow Resigns After Senator Warren Accuses Him of Conflicts. Warren has been pushing a "plan by the Labor Department to try and rein in conflicts posed by brokers who offer retirement advice." But Wall Street hates it. So Brooking Fellow Robert Litan hooked up with his colleague Hal Singer at the consulting firm Economists Incorporated. And the two of them put out a paper saying the plan would be very bad. But there was some (understandable) lack of disclosure. Not only had Litan been paid $38,800 by the investment firm Capital Group for the research, the firm also provided "feedback" before the paper was published.

In the old days, Brookings was seen as a middle of the road think tank. These days, I hear it referred to as liberal or "liberal leaning" — as if it is the left's equivalent of the Heritage Foundation. Regardless what you think of Brookings, you would have to admit that Brookings hasn't changed — the political landscape of this country has changed. And that's a question of elite opinion, not what actual American voters think. Thus, it should come as no shock that Brookings would employ what I consider a conservative hack.

What bugs me is that Litan worked in the Clinton White House. But it doesn't surprise me. This is a real divide in the Democratic Party. And how many years have I been ranting that the New Democrats destroyed the party? Again: this isn't about the actual voters. The Democratic establishment has become far more conservative on economic issues than the base voters. This is the same thing that happened to the Labour Party in the UK. And look what happened there. The only reason I haven't turned against Hillary Clinton is that I think she has always been a lot more liberal on economic issues than her husband.

But I do feel that there are rumblings in the party. I don't expect any kind of revolt. But it does seem that the "Democratic wing of the Democratic Party" is going to start to discipline the party. Because let's face it: the "rush to the right" has not worked out well. In addition to getting us conservative Democratic policy like ending "welfare as we know it," we've ended up with a hard right Republican Party — unwilling to compromise on anything at all.

So I'm glad that Warren is pushing back against this. The truth is that we can't just accept that someone being a Democrat means that they are anywhere near on the right side of economic issues. In fact, the Democratic Party has been — from Clinton right through Obama — in love with neoliberal policy. That seems to be changing now. Of course, it may all be too late. We really have allowed our whole political system to drift too far to the right and I'm not sure how we get back a sane system. But a precondition is for party actors like Elizabeth Warren to stand up to corporate cogs flying under the Democratic banner.


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Abortion, Blood, and Things Girls Know

Carly FiorinaAlthough I believe that I possess a special level of cluelessness on this matter, I think that men are pretty ignorant when it comes to human biology. There is a realization that comes to all us boys around the age of 5 that the girls have some kind of secret knowledge that they are not sharing with us. That never goes away. In fact, it only gets worse. At puberty, we all get very stupid. The men pretend they are tough and the women pretend they are weak, and the mating rituals begin. But still: the women are hiding something from the men — but only because we men can't understand it.

There is something very male about the hysteria over the Planned Parenthood videos and Carly Fiorina's claims about an aborted fetus outside the womb. And I think it explains why the anti-choice folks are using this tactic. Brian Beutler explained what's going on very well, The Anti-Abortion Movement's Weapons: Shock, Lies, and Carly Fiorina. When the videos first came out, the claim was that Planned Parenthood was doing something illegal. But that wasn't true, so there have been various excuses for the "sting" operation. None of them are true, of course.

When all the videos — released over time so as to maximize media attention — didn't do much, the same group releases a video that shows a pre-viable fetus outside the womb with some degree of life left in it. The footage was not taken by the group. It was taken from another source. According to Jen Gunter, it must be at least 15 years old. What's more, it is almost certainly not from an abortion procedure, but from a miscarriage. But it is nonetheless shocking and disturbing, especially to men who really don't have a clue what goes on inside women's bodies.

Of course, women do. Beutler quoted Rebecca Traister on this subject:

Women already know what abortion is. We know more about blood, innards, fetuses, and the babies they may become — in short, about life in reproductive bodies — than anti-abortion activists seem to understand.

And that's why I say that it is all about men — or at least a male take on the subject. And this may be why the anti-choice movement so easily transitioned to anti-birth-control, and why it is so aligned with patriarchy. There may be a lot of women in the movement, but they are mostly the ones who do not believe in doing it for themselves.

Ultimately, the whole thing — the years of undercover work, the videos, the outrage — was just to get to show that image. As Beutler said, "It's an Operation Rescue protest in the guise of advocacy, investigative journalism, committee hearings, and New York Times columns." It is really just the same old argument: if only we pro-choice people understood what late term abortions were really like, then we'd change our minds!

Most of the women I've known in my life have either liked or had no problem watching those shows that present open heart surgery and so on. I can't take them. They are deeply disturbing. But no one makes the case that we shouldn't do heart surgeries because they are disgusting. And it's equally true that childbirth itself is disgusting. Life is disgusting! But women already know that and they have since puberty at the latest. So this is mostly just a show for us men.


For the women, I guess it is a slightly different narrative: "Look! Bloody fetus! Looks like a baby!" But Traister had a response for that too:

Women know about blood. We know about discharge. We know about babies, and many of us also love them, their little feet and hands and eyelashes. And, yes, we know that those bitty features develop while the fetus is inside us. We also know the physical, economic, and emotional costs of raising those children outside our wombs.

But this is not about babies. If it were, then these same conservatives wouldn't be so intent on making poor mothers work outside the home. It is about controlling women. And so we have to see the tactics of "noisy protestors who hold startling fetus posters aloft outside of abortion clinics." Because that is all they've got.


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Morning Music: The Stalin

Trash - The StalinWe will end this week of Japanese punk with a very early band, The Stalin. They formed in 1979, and put out their first EP in 1981, Stalinism. It was the brainchild of Michiro Endo — who was already in his thirties by the time the band was recording. He reminds me of Lee Ving of Fear when he was at his most unhinged. But I don't think he ever was as unhinged as Endo.

Here is a song off their first LP, Trash. The song is called "Kaibōshitsu," which apparently means, "Autopsy Room." And that's, well, very hardcore punk.

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Anniversary Post: OJ Simpson Acquittal

OJ SimpsonOn this day in 1995, OJ Simpson was acquitted for the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman. It was not something that I followed, but I remember people were very excited about it. I think the interest in it really made Court TV. Some years after that, I lived with his older brother, Melvin Simpson. Melvin absolutely believed that Simpson didn't commit these crimes. I'm personally agnostic on the matter. It certainly seems like he did, but I have no problem believing the police set him up.

Melvin most certainly killed someone. He used to be a bus driver. In 2005, he was on cold medicine and fell asleep while driving — crashing his bus. An older woman went flying through the front windshield and died. This made national news because of OJ's past. But I remember Melvin telling me that OJ had complained that the incident was embarrassing him. The point of the story was, "I'm embarrassing you?!" That always made me wonder if Melvin didn't secretly think OJ had done it.

My overall takeaway from the OJ Simpson trial was that regardless of his guilt or innocence, if OJ Simpson had not been wealthy, he would have been found guilty. But unlike most people who note this, I don't think that OJ should have gotten worse representation; I think everyone else should get the great defense that he did. The prosecution has effectively unlimited resources. How is it fair to not allow poor defendants the same thing?

Regardless, OJ is back in jail. He got arrested in Las Vegas when I was living with Melvin. Melvin had been invited to go to Vegas, but backed out for one reason or another. He considered that he had lucked out. I assume so. Clearly, OJ was the alpha. Melvin was actually a very nice guy — even if he was a Golden Gloves boxer.


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We Get the Poor Children We Don't Pay for

Matt BruenigMatt Bruenig has some simple advice regarding one of our most pressing national issues, Want to Fight Poverty? Expand Welfare. Always Expand Welfare. It is, in part, a response to a common liberal solution to fighting poverty: limiting the poor. The arguments goes something like this, "Give the poor birth control and they will have fewer kids." In short: enact policy to make contraception affordable, but not to make having children affordable. Sadly, the only reason that liberals can get away with making this argument is because conservatives make the argument that not only should we do nothing to make having children affordable, we should not even make contraception affordable.

But why is it that American liberals so often want to "fight" poverty by spending less on it. It's not like these people make the argument that if more poor people used birth control there would be more money for those who didn't. Ultimately, I think it is all about control. Liberals — just like conservatives — want to control the poor. The theory is that the poor can't manage their own lives, but as I've noted here many times, the rich are only successful because they get a great start and then are never allowed to fail.

We have a lot of poor people in the United States. And why that is so is pretty obvious from two graphs that Bruenig presents. They both involve all the advanced economies — and a number of not so advanced economies like Hungary and the Slovak Republic. And it turns out that we have the highest child poverty rates of them all except for Greece (which is only slightly higher, and Turkey. We have twice the rate of child poverty of Germany and the United Kingdom. And a staggering 7 times the rate in Finland. Which reminds me:

But even more amazing is just how little we spend on this kind of welfare. Bruenig's second graph shows spending on public family benefits as a percentage of GDP. We spend 0.7%. The next lowest spending country is Portugal, which spends almost twice as much: 1.2%. Germany spends 2.2%; Finland, 3.2%; and the UK, 4.0% — almost 6 times as much. The only country that spends less is Turkey, which spends nothing at all — and results in almost a third of its children living in poverty, so I don't think we need to give that model a lot of thought. Bruenig noted, "How an American liberal looks at this sort of graph and concludes that what we should be targeting is lower welfare outlays is beyond me."

I think it all comes down to how neoliberalism has infected the Democratic Party. As I point out all the time, it wasn't a Republican who ended welfare as we know it. The whole basis of it was that the thing that the poor really needed was a good kick in the butt. And there was also this idea that I find so revolting that it's great for rich women to stay home and raise the kids but poor women need the "dignity" of working outside the home. Fundamentally, the problem is that a large fraction of American liberals have given up on liberalism.


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John Boehner: Friend of the Lobbyist

Lee FangLobbyists enjoy access to establishment politicians of both major parties. But Boehner leaves behind a career that is marked by a particularly extreme coziness with K Street.

He was once caught handing out tobacco industry campaign checks on the House floor before a vote on tobacco legislation...

As he raised millions from corporate political action committees, Boehner encouraged lobbyists to have a direct influence over the policy process. Under Speaker Boehner, the reverse revolving door became a blur, with more and more corporate lobbyists hired to manage the day-to-day business of key congressional committees and to serve as senior staff.

—Lee Fang
Lobbyists Mourn House Speaker John Boehner's Departure

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The Fed Will Stop Any Extra Economic Growth

Dean BakerI've already written an overview about all this nonsense, Trump's Huge Tax Cut for the Rich — of Course. It turns out that Trump's tax plan is just a bigger version of Jeb Bush's. And Marco Rubio's. Basically, Trump's tax plan is just another Republican tax cut for the rich. And look: Grover Norquist Blesses Trump Tax Plan. I had read somewhere that Norquist had seen the plan before it was announced, and that he had given his blessing then. So there is nothing surprising in any of this. Donald Trump is just another Republican loud mouth with absolutely nothing to offer.

But Dean Baker wrote a really insightful article on Tuesday, Trump World and the Fed. He focused on one aspect of the plan: the supply side voodoo. When Jeb Bush announced his plan, he claimed that it was going to increase economic growth to a 4% rate. No economists took that number seriously. Even the conservative economists who Bush has on the payroll distanced themselves from that. We haven't seen much over 3% since the 1960s. But since Trump has to do everything bigger, he said his tax cuts would produce 6% growth. And why not? If Jeb Bush can get away with pulling a number out of the air, why can't they all?

Baker's point is that the Federal Reserve would never allow that kind of growth. As it is, we have anemic growth, low employment-to-population rate, and no real wage growth, and the Fed is just itching to raise interest rates.

Baker's point is that the Federal Reserve would never allow that kind of growth. As it is, we have anemic growth, low employment-to-population rate, and no real wage growth — and the Fed is just itching to raise interest rates. Baker noted, "In this case, we would expect to see the Fed raise interest rates sharply as they saw the Trump tax cuts boosting growth. Higher interest rates would slow house buying and new construction, discourage car sales, and put a crimp in both public and private investment." And that, of course, is assuming that Trump's plan worked as he claims (which of course it wouldn't).

There is a broader point here. The Fed now sees its job as making sure that millions of Americans are involuntarily unemployed and that all Americans are stuck with stagnant wages. That's not how they would put it, of course. They would say they are heading off inflation — despite the fact that they haven't manage to even meet their 2% inflation target since the financial crisis. But regardless of their reasons, they point remains that whatever the economic policy, the Fed is determined to stop it if it actually works.

The last two economic booms were due to the Federal Reserve. The Fed destroyed the economy in the late 1970s to head off what was actually high inflation. And then when it lowered rates, it brought on the boom of the 1980s, which people wrongly give Reagan credit for. And then in the 1990s, Clinton's economic policies were mostly fine, but it was only because Alan Greenspan was an iconoclast and allowed unemployment to get below 4% that the boom happened. It's interesting to note that one of the big dissenting voices at that time — calling for him to raise interest rates — was current Fed Chair Janet Yellen. (Did you hear that Yellen just announced that the Fed will, in fact, raise rates by the end of the year? Way to go! Keep the rich happy! Screw the poor!)

So we are in this situation where we need two things to happen if the economy is really to start working for all Americans in the usual liberal, market oriented, way. First, we need good (or lucky) economic policy. Second, we need the Fed to allow it. So we have to break through two plutocratic barriers. This is why I am more and more convinced that we have to give up on the capitalist system as we now find it. It is self-corrupting. The more money people have, the more influence they buy. That isn't the only problem with capitalism, but it is one of the biggest we now face. And it is one with no solution.

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One Way to Start to Combat Gun Violence: Voting

I'm NRA and I Vote!You can't be connected enough to read this blog and not have heard about the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College. I don't think I'm at all alone in feeling like I'm suffering from learned helplessness. It's not this particular shooting, which mightn't have been changed by anything. But clearly, our guns laws do need to be changed. Yet we don't do anything. Or rather, the political environment is such that the most reasonable steps to making guns less of a threat in our society are met with hysteria by the pro-gun nuts.

I know people who are gun fanciers. Most of them do not have any problem with any of the gun regulations that have been proposed in the last ten years. Yet when it comes to voting, they don't dive into the policies. They just see who the NRA says is "evil" and who is "good," and they vote based upon that. It doesn't matter in the least that the "evil" candidate probably agrees with them more than the "good" candidate.

And, of course, there is the problem of voters. I've been seeing the "I'm NRA and I Vote!" bumper stickers since I was a kid, and it's very true. The same thing can be said of conservatives generally. There are a lot of people who are outraged by these kinds of attacks. They answer the pollsters' questions about common sense gun regulations. And then on election day, they don't show up to the polls. During the Colorado recall, state senator John Morse was recalled by just 319 votes for the crime of passing hugely popular legislation.

Again: this is not about mass shootings. The mass shootings are just a reminder. There are roughly 11,000 gun homicides each year in the US. That's 30 per day. Suicides are even worse. Over at Vox, Zack Beauchamp put together, Deaths From Gun Violence vs Deaths From Terrorism, in One Chart. It's a boring chart. In 2001, there were four times as many Americans murdered with guns as were murdered by terrorism. But the rest of the years since have been pretty much like the last year of data (2011): 653 times as many people murdered with guns as by terrorism. Maybe that's not a fair comparison. But if you look at firearm related death rates, the only countries worse than the US are places like Colombia and Swaziland. The closest advanced economy is Finland, with a rate of one-third ours. Ours is almost five times that of the most obvious comparison, Canada.

The question remains the same: what are we going to do about this? And, sadly, the answer is the same: nothing. There are lots of problems in America. Far more people die because of economic inequality and all the things that go along with it. People die in wars -- and many other things that conservatives are far more keen on. The answer to all these things is the same: voting. If people voted as much in off-year (and off off-year) elections as they do in presidential elections, this country would be in far better shape. And it would make the Republican Party far more reasonable. We can't be like the people in The Daily Show segment: non-voters who are slightly embarrassed with a self-deprecating chuckle. Those people should have been crimson in their public shame. (In fairness, the one guy got pretty close to crimson.)


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