This Is Not a Math Joke

Math Joke - The Simpsons

This is a still from The Simpsons episode “Mathlete’s Feat.” This is what society thinks of people like me. Not that I’m complaining! I like that the episode makes fun of education fads. At least I think it does. It is hard to tell anymore. The Simpsons has been thoroughly infected by the Family Guy “anything for a joke” philosophy, so the episodes don’t hang together the way they once did. Still, it was nice to see a couple of shots taken at the idea that technology can serve as a substitute for good education. But even with that, it wasn’t a sharp attack — just silly people casting off one orthodoxy for another.

But this image struck me because of the “math joke.” The screen at first showed Homer apparently laughing at the joke. It lasted a long time, I assume to give the audience the chance to “get” the joke. Then it pulled back and we saw that actually Homer was laughing at the dog with a box on its head. Why exactly that is funny, I’m not sure. But roughly the same thing can be said for the math joke.

Of course, the purpose of such “jokes” is not to be funny but to be clever. But there is something very subgenius about the whole thing, if you ask me. The joke here is that the math symbols are supposed to read out, “I ate some pie.” But that doesn’t exactly pop out of it.

When I am confronted with such a thing, I just read it out literally. And frankly, I think that is all that ought to be necessary. But that doesn’t work at all here. I read it as, “Imaginary unit eight summation pi.” And from there I quickly managed “ate some pie.” But even that seemed stupid because I don’t recall ever using the phrase “sum whatever.” I might use “sum of whatever.” Okay: I am a super pedant. But I don’t necessarily have a problem with this. It is vaguely clever, the same way it was when we were kids spelling words with upside down calculators. (That is: not very.)

The question is what one is supposed to make of that square root of negative one. It is the imaginary unit: the most basic imaginary number — beloved by differential equations everywhere. And obviously, yes: the imaginary unit is always referred to as i. To be a pedant, that’s i and not I. But okay. What bothers me is exactly what would bother Bill Clinton: what the definition of is is. Note that “two cubed” and “sigma pi” are puns — they depend upon the sound of what they are. The “square root of negative one” is not i; it is represented by i.

But even if we grant that this is a joke, ultimately, it isn’t a math joke. It’s just a joke that only people with a little mathematical education will be able to get. A joke in the Greek language is not necessarily a “Greek joke.” A math joke is something that deals with, well, math. For example, here’s a joke that people loved in graduate school but always seemed pretty dumb to me:

A biologist, a chemist, and a statistician are out hunting. The biologist shoots at a deer and misses 5 feet to the left, the chemist takes a shot and misses 5 feet to the right, and the statistician yells, “We got ‘im!”

I think I take a certain personal affront to this “math joke” on The Simpsons because the real object of the joke is nerds themselves. This has always been my problem with the television show The Big Bang Theory. So what you have is a joke that is funny because there are these weird people out there who supposedly find it funny. And actually, there aren’t. “I ate some pie” is funny in the same way as this riddle I learned in the second grade. Question: what state is round on the edges and high in the middle? Answer: Ohio! It’s funny because… Actually, it wasn’t even funny in second grade.


See also: Why I Don’t Like The Big Bang Theory.

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The “Objective” Media Take on Bernie Sanders

Jonathan TopazThese weren’t your everyday Americans who came out to support Bernie Sanders on Tuesday.

The self-described democratic socialist kicked off his long-shot run for the White House in his adopted hometown of Burlington, a lakeside city full of characters who might not have passed the pre-selection process for Hillary Clinton’s tour of round tables.

And while Sanders, the state’s independent US Senator, may be way behind in national presidential polls, in Burlington, he’s a local hero.

In the afternoon, a “people’s assembly” of hundreds of Sanders supporters gathered in City Hall Park, where dreadlocked guitarists played in the morning and patrons browsed at the nearby Hempest, which advertises itself as the largest organic hemp product store in the world.

—Jonathan Topaz
It’s Not Your Everyday Americans at Bernie Sanders’ Kickoff Rally


Note: I get the impression that Topaz actually likes Sanders a lot. And at least he’s covering him. I think this style is just God mandated in the Village.

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Conservatives Want a Return to King George III

Conservative Ideal: King George IIIIan Millhiser wrote a great take-down of Charles Murray’s new book, By The People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission with the blunt title, Jeb Bush’s Favorite Author Rejects Democracy, Says the Hyper-Rich Should Seize Power. It comes with a great big picture of King George III. Because that is, in effect, what Murray is arguing for. Basically: democracy isn’t going to bring about the great libertarian utopia that Murray wants. (That’s because it is an extremely unpopular ideology.) “Murray, in other words, would rather transfer much of our sovereign nation’s power to govern itself to a single privileged individual than continue to live under the government America’s voters have chosen.” Kind of frightening that this guy is considered one of the great American conservative thinkers.

Millhiser focused a lot of attention on Murray’s misuse of James Madison to make his case. According to Murray, Madison didn’t believe in the expansive interpretation of the Constitution. That’s a questionable statement. Any time people make arguments based upon what various founding fathers did or didn’t think, we are getting into very dangerous territory. For one thing, most of the founding fathers weren’t wonderful people. For another: they lived in a completely different time with radically different needs. But when it comes specifically to Madison, he was a pretty practical guy whose opinions changed over time.

What I’m struck with is that the supposedly learned Charles Murray seems stuck with the Constitution as it existed in 1788 — that’s 227 years ago for those of you following along at home. The Constitution was set up so that it could be changed over time. This is something that people like Murray always seem to forget. They also seem to mistake the Constitution for the Articles of Confederacy. The whole point of the Constitution was to make the United States a practical possibility. The Articles of Confederacy were unworkable. And much of the original Constitution has needed to be shed because it too was unworkable.

And that brings us to the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. That was basically what turned Charles Murray’s beloved “Constitution” in the modern Constitution — greatly expanding the federal government and limiting the rights of the states. That’s because, oh I don’t know, we had just fought the Civil War over the issue of what states seemed to think were their rights. Murray claims that all that is wrong with modern America stems from the 1937 decision finding Social Security constitutional, Helvering v Davis. But what he really wants is a repeal of the Fourteenth Amendment where the federal government is neutered.

Millhiser concluded pretty much what I did a couple of weeks ago, Charles Murray Finally Realizes He Isn’t Winning. He noted the general change in the conservative outlook on politics, “When President Ronald Reagan was in office, he spoke with the confidence of a man who believed that the American people were on his side.” Conservatives sure don’t think that anymore. And here is the great big conservative “thinker” whining about how democracy can’t possibly help them to attain their goals.

Ultimately, Murray is calling for the decimation of the law itself. Of course, he is quick to add that his approach would only be used against laws that are invalid. But invalid according to whom? That’s a question that Murray doesn’t seem to grapple with, but the answer is obvious enough: the billionaires who fund his little project. So he may think that doing this will lead us back to the One True Way of (his version) of James Madison. But it leads further back than that: to King George III. This is the conservative goal. But it has always been — from Edmund Burke to Charles Murray.

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A Conservative’s Disingenuous Desperation

Peter WehnerAccording to Peter Wehner, the Democratic Party has moved far to the left while the Republicans have stayed pretty much where they were. The New York Times gave him a thousand words to make a shockingly disingenuous case for his claim, Have Democrats Pulled Too Far Left? But that title gives entirely the wrong impression, because it is not a question. Wehner is convinced of it. And by cherry picking issues and creatively starting the clock at the presidency of Bill Clinton, he sounds sorta reasonable. The problem is that his argument would only be convincing to readers of The Wall Street Journal editorial page — because they already believe such nonsense.

Wehner’s main argument is that the Democratic Party has moved back to being as liberal as it was before Clinton. This is supposed to be some terrible thing, because one of the things that all conservatives know is that the Democrats lost three presidential elections (1980, 1984, and 1988) because it was too liberal. As I’ve discussed to the point of exhaustion: this narrative is wrong. The Democrats lost those elections because the political science fundamentals were in the Republicans’ favor: the economy was bad in 1980 and then good in 1984 and 1988. What’s more, Clinton won in 1992 because the economy was bad, not because he was conservative and had a “Sister Souljah moment.”

But is the modern Democratic Party more liberal than it was under Bill Clinton? In some ways it is. But this isn’t because of some great lurch to the left. It is because times and evidence have changed. Wehner pointed out that the Democrats have turned against Bill Clinton’s “tough on crime” policies. Yep. That’s because they have been terrible for the nation. Also: Clinton has turned against them. Democrats have also turned against Bill Clinton’s end of welfare as we have known it. Again: that’s one that has long been shown to be a failure and only ever looked like it worked because we were in the middle of a stock bubble created economic boom. In addition, you can add Obama being more liberal on things like gay rights, where the entire country has moved left. Finally, Clinton did not make as big a deal of global warming as Obama does — I wonder why! But that’s the extent to which Obama is more liberal than Clinton.

Wehner also noted that Clinton lowered the capital gains rate and Obama raised it. Yes, but Clinton lowered it to 20% and Obama raised it to 20%. Nothing is said of the fact that Clinton raised the top federal income tax rate from 28% all the way up to 39.6%. Obama only allowed it to return from 35% back up to 39.6% — while allowing all the lower income tax brackets to stay lower than they were under Clinton. And then, Wehner noted that Obama created Obamacare. Fair enough. But Clinton tried to create the even more liberal Hillarycare — and failed. So how is it that Obama is more liberal than Clinton?

And then, as though Wehner can’t write so much as transmit his conservative id onto paper, he switched his discussion to the recent UK elections. According to him, the Labour Party lost because it “ran hard to the left.” Again, this is the kind of nonsense that is believed only by those who get their “news” from The Wall Street Journal editorial page. The Labour Party ran a decidedly centrist campaign, promising (very much like Democrats in the US) to be Conservative Lite. Wehner also mentioned that the election gave the Conservative Party its first outright majority since 1992. Yes, but with 36% of the vote — one of those oddities of supposedly democratic political systems.

As for how far to the right the Republicans have moved: he’s not even right on that account. He starts the clock at Clinton, so basically the big move right had already happened. But even still, as recently as 2008, the Republicans wanted to do something about global warming. As recently as 2006 they wanted to do something about immigration. On the issue of abortion, the Republicans have largely become absolutists, even while claiming that Obama’s position has somehow moved left. Republicans are now for giving more money to farmers and less food to poor children. Wehner’s entire argument is based on a very selective reading of history. It’s shocking that this guy has a job.

What comes across loud and clear in Wehner’s article, however, is his desperation. Anytime a conservative comes out in public trying to save liberals from themselves, you can be certain that it means that said conservative is very scared. And that is because conservatives long ago learned something that most liberals still don’t understand: you don’t need to win elections if you can move the political playing field far to your side. The fact that Wehner doesn’t get laughed out of polite society for claiming that Obama is a liberal firebrand shows just how successful the Republican Party has been at moving the playing field far to the right. The last thing he wants is for extremely moderate candidates like Hillary Clinton to take up any actual liberal — and popular — policy positions. So I’m glad to see him sweat. But I cannot say why The New York Times thinks it is appropriate to give such a disingenuous, nervous fool this very valuable exposure.

Afterword

I wrote this yesterday morning. I didn’t think that Wehner’s article would cause so much of a stir, but at this point, it looks like everyone has written about it. The consensus is the same: Wehner is an idiot. But I thought Ed Kilgore had a good take on it, The Tired Old “Both Sides Getting More Extreme” Meme. He noted that since Wehner is a non-crazy Republican, he has to make these kinds of arguments to justify staying in the party.

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Morning Music: The Supremes

The Supremes Produced and Arranged by Jimmy WebbIn 1972, the musical Pippin was produced on Broadway. It was Stephen Schwartz’s second hit in as many years, after Godspell, which ran for five straight years. When I was a kid, I loved Pippin. I saw it in 1979 at the SRJC Summer Repertory Theater. I’m not as sold on it now. “Corner of the Sky” struck me as near perfect then, but now it is almost unlistenable with its ponderous chorus. Still, many songs are quite good like “Magic to Do,” “No Time at All,” and “Spread a Little Sunshine.”

Another really strong song is, “I Guess I’ll Miss the Man.” What’s nice about it is that it is sweet while still maintaining a grasp on reality with its wry sense of humor. “Some men are heroes; Some men outshine the sun; Some men are simple, good men; This man wasn’t one.” The singer is far past the point of expecting perfection — or, it turns out, even one degree past adequacy.

I didn’t realize it, but the same year the musical appeared on Broadway, The Supremes released this song on their album, The Supremes Produced and Arranged by Jimmy Webb. In fact, they even had a minor hit with it. They manage to sap it of all its vitality and humor. But it’s still a pretty song — and highly attractive to men the world over!

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Anniversary Post: Time Itself

Solar EclipseOn this day in 585 BC, time began. No, really! Sorta. I mean dating happened. You see, Thales of Miletus was one of the greatest of the Greek philosophers — born in 624 BC. He was also, in a sense, the first Greek philosopher. He tried to explain the world without mythology. This is at a time when the Jews were wandering around the desert trying not to worship golden calves. (Just kidding! That’s all mythology — the Jews never wandered the desert for forty years.) Because of his early thinking, he is widely considered the father of science. And think about it: there are many people today who find Thales’ ideas threatening.

In addition to his many other accomplishments, Thales is known for predicting the 28 May 585 BC solar eclipse that apparently caused the two sides in the Battle of Halys to call a truce. As a result of this, ancient events can be dated, because we know when this one thing happened. Of course, nothing is ever that clear. For one thing, we only know about this prediction from Herodotus, who wasn’t born until a century after the eclipse. What’s more, there are some historians who claim that we are misreading Herodotus and that he really meant a lunar eclipse and that the time was anywhere from a couple of years to a couple of decades earlier.

Ain’t that always the way with time! And dates. And science. But it sounds really cool, “This is the date time started!” And there are far worse ways of determining the truth than basing it upon the Coolness Factor (CF). Take for example: ancient dogmas. Does stoning to death adulterers sound cool? No it doesn’t. The CF strikes again!

Happy anniversary time!

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Prison for Soccer Villains, Fines for Bank Villains

Soccer PenaltyIt has been amusing to watch this worldwide dust-up regarding the Fédération Internationale de Football Association or FIFA. Oh! My! God! There is corruption in world football! Something must be done to stop this because, God knows, society might fall apart if the people think that soccer isn’t on the up and up. But not to worry, Attorney General Loretta Lynch is on the case! People are being indicted. People are going to go to jail. She noted, “They corrupted the business of worldwide soccer to serve their interests and to enrich themselves.” At least, justice is done! Now that the evildoers are being punished, we can all rest safe at night knowing that soccer is clean.

Of course, this spectacle of “tough on soccer crime” comes just one week after it was announced that Citicorp, JPMorgan Chase , Barclays, and Royal Bank of Scotland were caught having “rigged foreign exchange prices” over the couse of six years. Loretta Lynch had strong words for these criminals: they had been involved in a “brazen display of collusion.” She added, “Starting as early as Dec 2007, currency traders at several multinational banks formed a group dubbed ‘The Cartel.’ It is perhaps fitting that those traders chose that name, as it aptly describes the brazenly illegal behavior they were engaging in on a near-daily basis.” Very bad stuff.

So if the US and EU are going to lock up people who have manipulated something as trivial as soccer, you can only imagine what happened to these bankers. What was it? Are they set to be hanged, drawn, and quartered? Or perhaps death by sawing? Burned at the stake?! What horrible end will come to these malefactors of great wealth? Well, if you read this website regularly — or if you have simply lived in the United States sometime in the last forty years — you already know: nothing.

That’s not how it is put in the press, of course. The Justice Department made a big deal out of the fact that the banks will have to pay $5.5 billion in fines. Also, the banks involved will have to plead guilty to some criminal charges. But you know the payoff:

No individual bank employees were hit with criminal charges as part of the settlements, though several authorities said investigations into foreign-exchange issues are continuing.

Don’t worry about that last part. That is always said. When banks agree to settlements, some claim is made to the effect of, “This does not rule out further prosecution.” But in fact there are never any further prosecutions because that is understood in the deal. Meanwhile, the whole thing allows the CEOs of the company to make public statements about how they are as appalled as anyone. Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat said, “The behavior that resulted in the settlements we announced today is an embarrassment to our firm, and stands in stark contrast to Citi’s values.” Citi’s values? I thought the thing about corporations was that their only moral duty was to make money for their stock holders. We’re now supposed to believe that (1) they care about anything but that; and (2) Corbat and the rest of the clan don’t actually know all the nefarious things that their companies do in order to “maximize shareholder value”?

But what is accountability in the financial sector compared to making sure that Brazil doesn’t unfairly get to host the World Cup? This is the kind of disconnect that is common in the law enforcement community. The cronies at the top of FIFA are rich. But they aren’t rich like Michael Corbat or Jamie Dimon. And so it is okay to hold those “low level” criminals accountable. People who work in banks are the “right kind of people.” And as a result, they aren’t the kind of people who go to jail. It’s disgusting.

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Bob Woodward: Still Hacky After All These Years

Charles PierceThe latest entrant in the Mistakes Were Made sweepstakes regarding C-Plus Augustus‘ blundering in Iraq is journalistic giant — and stenographer to the powerful — Bob Woodward, who stopped by Fox News Sunday this weekend because he is a big-time Beltway ‘ho who doesn’t care what kind of riff-raff leaves the money on the dresser these days. Anyway, Bob wants to assure us that the leadership of the late Avignon Presidency were babes in the woods.

Woodward: “I spent 18 months looking at how Bush decided to invade Iraq. And lots of mistakes, but it was Bush telling George Tenet, the CIA director, don’t let anyone stretch the case on WMD. And he was the one who was skeptical. And if you try to summarize why we went into Iraq, it was momentum. The war plan kept getting better and easier, and finally at the end, people were saying, hey, look, it will only take a week or two. And early on it looked like it was going to take a year or 18 months. And so Bush pulled the trigger. A mistake certainly can be argued, and there is an abundance of evidence. But there was no lying in this that I could find.” …

The fact remains that a lot of people inside and outside government — in fact, most of the actual military and diplomatic experts in the field — told the neocon fantasts in the administration exactly what was going to happen if it decided to “kick over the hornet’s nest” in Iraq. These people were ignored (The Future of Iraq project at State), marginalized (Hans Blix), or actively destroyed (Eric Shinseki). There was a reason for this. The reason was that the people who were talking to Bob Woodward wanted to deceive the nation to get what they wanted.

On 7 October 2002, C-Plus Augustus gave a speech in Cincinnati. In that speech, he laid out his fanciful case for war in some detail. Because Bob seems to be floundering a bit in the swamps of history these days, let’s lend him a hand, “The evidence indicates that Iraq is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program… Iraq has attempted to purchase high-strength aluminum tubes and other equipment needed for gas centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.”

Uh, no. The great body of evidence “indicated” no such thing. This was simply the story they fed to Judith Miller, who then returned the serve to them so Dick Cheney could nail the putaway in front of a gullible Tim Russert on TV. Bob seems to believe that a campaign of deception and trimming is not a “lie.” I had nuns who would have beheaded him with a window pole for that kind of “purpose of evasion.”

—Charlie Pierce
Jive Talking: Bob Woodward’s Credibility Finally Hits The Ocean Floor

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The Obamacare Challenge Is Just Plain Silly

We Heart ObamacareJonathan Chait wrote yet another article pointing out what should be obvious, Former Senate Republicans Admit Obamacare Lawsuit Is Crazy. This is in reference to King v Burwell, where four little words that contradict many other passages in the Obamacare text are supposed to be read out of context and used to deprive people of subsidies with they are buying insurance on federally run exchanges. The argument that the plaintiff is making is that the intent of the law was to twist the arms of the states and make them set up their own exchanges by disallowing subsidies on federal exchanges.

It turns out that no one in power actually thought this. Instead, Congress had just assumed that the states would set up their own exchanges — well into the drafting of the bill. Later on, someone realized that there would be some states that for whatever reasons wouldn’t set up their own exchanges. Thus the federal exchanges were born. So the infamous four words — “established by the State” — was just a drafting error. Everyone knows that. But it is a common conservative tactic to pretend to be more ignorant than anyone in history. It is often the only way that they can argue in favor of their own screwed up policies. See, for example, supply side economics.

The law on this seems very clear, and the fact that three justices (Scalia, Thomas, and Alito) are almost certain to side with the plaintiff should disturb the whole country. During the hearing, Antonin Scalia noted that it didn’t matter what the intent of the framers was; what mattered was what the law said. Fair enough. But in previous arguments, Scalia (along with the rest of the Supreme Court) has argued that a law doesn’t become unconstitutional just because it isn’t written well. The law has to be seen in total. But I’m sure for the Ideological Three, that’s only true when doing so would bring about the decision they want. In this case, they badly want to destroy Obamacare.

What I think is amazing is that whether or not a state set up an exchange is a minor thing. It certainly isn’t something important enough to take such a draconian approach to. Brian Beutler made a great point when he wrote:

What were the framers of the Affordable Care Act trying to do? Were they trying to stitch together a harmonious system across all state borders, with subsidies available everywhere? Or were they trying to coerce states into setting up their own exchanges by threatening to withhold subsidies from their citizens, and impose chaos on their insurance marketplaces?

In order to conclude the latter, you have to think that Democrats are like the Jews of Borat’s fantasy: they are evil for its own sake. And the truth is that if you listen to hate radio (or to a slightly smaller extent Fox News), you will hear exactly this framing. But it should be clear to anyone that this is not who Democrats are. They may be (and quite often are) stupid. They may be (and almost always are) beholden to special interests. But they aren’t in the business of destroying their own legislation. Think about another conservative canard: “Obamacare is part of a socialist takeover of America!” If that’s the case, why would all those closet socialists seek to destroy their own socialist legislation? It makes no sense.

Of course, it isn’t supposed to make sense. No one — Really: no one! — believes this nonsense about trying to coerce the states into setting up their own exchanges. This is just the best justification that the conservatives could come up with to justify this lawsuit. And the silliness of the justification shows just how ridiculous the lawsuit is.

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It Isn’t Kansas; It’s Us; We’re Vile People

SNAPOver at Salon, Digby wrote, The Republican Campaign to Destroy the Poor Stoops to a New Low. It’s a general article, but she is specifically referring to a new Kansas law that only allows people on assistance to get a maximum of $25 per day from an ATM. As Dylan Matthews wrote last week, it is a way of soaking the poor with expensive ATM fees. You know the ones; I’m sure you have been desperate at times and found yourself facing the screen, “This transaction will cost $3.00 in addition to whatever other fees your bank changes. Would you like to continue?”

Matthews noted that in addition to the various bank charges, the state of Kansas itself charges a $1.00 fee for withdrawals. So a conservative estimate involves $1.50 from the bank (but other banks charge more) and $1.00 from the state, for a total of $2.50 for each $20 withdrawn. That represents a 12.5% surcharge. What’s interesting about this is that a common conservative claim is that the poor need to learn the proper ways to manage their money. And here are these very same conservatives insisting that they do otherwise. I have little doubt that the banks themselves have worked behind the scenes to make this happen.

But the main thing is that this is about punishing the poor. It isn’t just a question of the financial penalty. The very idea of limiting withdrawals from their accounts is meant to make a big production of saying, “You are on assistance; you can’t be trusted; you are a low life.” Of course, clearly the politicians who are pushing this are the most repugnant kind of people. What’s more, Mother Jones reported earlier this year, People on Food Stamps Make Healthier Grocery Decisions Than Most of Us. But data don’t matter to these conservatives. They start with the conclusion: people are poor because they are immoral. The rest follows from that conclusion.

Dylan Matthews sums up exactly what I think:

I hate these kinds of provisions. Everyone gets benefits from the government, but, as Emily Badger has noted, benefits for the middle class and rich never seem to come with any strings attached. No one has ever been banned from spending their mortgage interest deduction or electric vehicle tax credit on movie tickets. When it comes time to crack the whip and eliminate frivolous expenses, it seems only the poor get targeted.

But sadly, the problem isn’t fundamentally with the politicians. Yes, of course, they are vile human beings. But think about that little factoid I mentioned above about people who get food stamps making better food purchasing decisions. Most Americans — including liberals — would find that surprising. Our default way of thinking is that there must be something wrong with the poor. Indeed, David Brooks has never been publicly shamed for claiming that the poor are suffering because of their lack of middle class values — even though it is both offensive and intellectually embarrassing.

So the question is how long will the American middle class continue to feel superior to the poor? How long will it take before it realizes that the issue with poverty is not “They behave so badly” but rather “There for the grace of God”? Americans are a particularly parochial people. We think rather highly of ourselves, when all of our advantages have been given to us. It would be wonderful — but extremely surprising — if we finally managed to grow up.

See Also

Should People Pursuing Risky Careers Be Forced to Starve?
Pay No Attention to Rich Man’s Welfare!

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Morning Music: Miles Davis

Bitches Brew Live - Miles DavisWhen I was a wee teen, my friend Will bought Isle of Wight: Atlanta Pop Festival. It was a three LP collection, containing tracks by an eclectic mix of people from Johnny Winter to Sly & the Family Stone to Kris Kristofferson. As I recall, I didn’t especially care for anything on that album except for David Bromberg’s wonderful version of “Mr Bojangles.” But I especially hated a 17 minute jam by Miles Davis, “Call It Anything’.” It just sounded like noise to me.

One of the great joys of life has been to experience my gradual maturation of music appreciation. I’ve had the same experience with Frank Zappa. When I was young, I hated his guitar playing, but now I think it is marvelous (even if I’m not in the mood for it that often). And the same thing is true of Davis’ later work. This is the Bitches Brew period, and now I love it. In this live video from Isle of Wight in August of 1970, Davis is performing with quite a band. It includes the original Bitches Brew crew: Chick Corea on electric piano, Jack DeJohnette on drums, Dave Holland on bass with parts that seem designed to cause hand cramping, and Airto Moreira doing some unnatural things with percussion. In addition, there is Keith Jarrett on organ and Gary Bartz on soprano saxophone (Wayne Shorter was on the original album). This 35 minute set made up the majority (tracks 4 through 9) of Bitches Brew Live. It’s wonderful music.

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Anniversary Post: Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate BridgeOn this day in 1937, the Golden Gate Bridge opened. To be honest, it isn’t my favorite bridge. I’m more fond of the Bay Bridge because of its two short-tower suspension bridges one after the other. But that is more of an intellectual thing. The truth is that the Golden Gate Bridge is magnificent and I still get a thrill crossing it. There is the long ride up the Waldo Grade, the drive through the Waldo Tunnel, and then the steep descent to the bridge and almost two miles across the bay. Unfortunately, I cannot walk across the bridge. I’ve tried, but my acrophobia is too bad. Plus, I think, there is a residual from my grandmother who used to tell me (All the time!) that if I didn’t put on some weight, a strong wind would come up and blow me away.

After 9/11, I had a hard time understanding what New Yorkers were going through. I understood the terrorism aspect of it. But they had a special unhappiness that I didn’t understand. The way I figured out how to empathize was to imagine if someone had destroyed the Golden Gate Bridge. That certainly would mean something special to me. It is a potent symbol of the Bay Area. Of course, it is also beautiful. That is something that cannot be said of the Twin Towers. But I still get it. Note to would-be terrorist: please don’t destroy our bridge!

I could provide you with a history of the bridge. The problem is that having grown up in the Bay Area, I’ve heard too much about this stuff. And I don’t really care. It is an amazing structure, and a much needed tool for the area. But for you from out of the area, the Golden Gate is the entrance to the San Francisco Bay — also known as the “Golden Gate.” The bridge itself, is not golden. And even if it were, what the hell is “gate” doing in its name? Huh?!

Happy anniversary Golden Gate Bridge!

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