BuzzFeed Britain Names the States!

British CountiesYou may remember back a couple of years, I introduced you to the Know Your States game at Jim’s Pages. I call it a game, but it is also a great tool to learn your states and where they are. And that’s a good thing, because Americans are hopeless when it comes to geography. I know I am! But I’ve gotten a whole lot better. And by playing the game obsessively for a while, I’ve actually gotten to the point that I know all the states. (The game itself is a lot harder than that; you have to be able to place them pretty accurately on a blank map.)

Bearing this in mind, I was pleased to see that BuzzFeed does a fun thing, We Asked Brits to Label the United States Again, Because It’s A Thanksgiving Tradition. Yes, it is a tradition: this is the second year that they’ve done it. And the main thing that comes across is that the people working in the London office of BuzzFeed are very clever, even if they don’t know much about the geography of the United States.

Most of them are very funny, but you really need to click over to BuzzFeed to see them because they would be too small to read here. But this one makes a serious point:

Brits Draw America

I would go further. I think these Brits actually do a whole lot better a job than the vast majority of Americans. That’s why you should play Know Your States. We’ve got to beat the Brits!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fun? Maybe? Fun?

Thanksgiving Poetry

Thanksgiving TurkeyI figured there must be some fun Thanksgiving poetry out in the big world. And I was sadly disappointed. That’s not to say there isn’t such poetry. It is just that the vast majority of what I found was pretty lame. But I did find a decent amount of stuff that tickled me — at least a little.

One website, You Can Be Funny, had Funny Thanksgiving Poems. There are basically just two things that the poems discuss. One is the fact that people eat a lot on Thanksgiving. The other — and main — category consists of those that discuss the fate of the turkey. Here is a typical, but better than average, example:

Turkey, Turkey, look at you
Please be careful what you do.
Thanksgiving day is almost here.
We eat turkey every year.
Go and hide out in the woods.
We’ll eat pizza like we should.

Better is a poem by Jane-Ann Heitmueller, “Reprieve.” It is the turkey equivalent of Poe’s “The Raven.” It is a little funny, but mostly it is profound. Thanksgiving is always a good time to think about death:

While sauntering down an oak filled lane one bright, crisp autumn day,
I sensed a quiet, hidden gaze directed in my way.
With searching eyes I scanned the limbs to find the Peeping Tom,
And sure enough, though well concealed, the turkey sat… so calm.

Apparently, ’twas in his heart approaching Turkey Day,
So he was hidden with the hope to be nobody’s prey.
I couldn’t help but sympathize, as I went strolling by,
And know I too would be in fear thinking I soon might die!

Striking a pose of nonchalance, my pace, I kept it steady,
Deciding this Thanksgiving Day—
My meal would be spaghetti.

Will and Guy’s Humor (“Funny Clean Jokes”!) provides some very sentimental poems, but we must have one poem about food in general:

May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And may your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!

Let’s end with a couple of more sophisticated poems from MadKane. This first one is from one of her limerick competitions. She asked people to write one about eating. And as always, she provided her own example:

A man was attempting to eat
When he spotted a mouse near his seat.
So he smashed down his foot,
And the mouse went kaput,
As his kid cried, “You killed little Pete!”

And then there is this Thanksgiving limerick from 2012 when Washington was approaching the “Fiscal Cliff”:

It’s time for some serious talk.
Please don’t bitch or complain, and don’t balk.
Our issues are great—
Act before it’s too late.
So kindly talk turkey. Don’t squawk.

Just to show you how beneficent I am, I have decided to not leave you with a poem. But I could totally create a poem using turkey, perky, quirky, murky, and beef jerky.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Fun? Maybe? Fun?, Reading & Writing, Social

Capitalism, Productivity, and Thanksgiving

Peanuts ThanksgivingHappy Thanksgiving everyone! It is actually a holiday that I kind of like. That’s because it is just about eating. I think we could use more holidays like this. In fact, as time has gone on, I’ve become more fond of holidays. The reason is simple: the oligarchs are trying to destroy the very idea of holidays. Americans work far too much. We need to take more time off. Part of our economic problems come from the fact that those who do have jobs work a lot, leaving an unreasonable number of people with no work at all.

In other countries, the people have chosen to exchange increasing productivity for more leisure time. This makes sense. But Americans have not in general made that decision. They’ve taken all of the increased productivity in a higher standard of living. I think that is likely not an actual choice. In the United States, not “living to work” is seen as a moral failing. But at some point, the “family values” crowd might consider what is better: being able to afford a better television and iPhone or being able to spend more time with their kids?

Of course, for the last four decades, American workers haven’t traded their productivity gains for either more leisure or a higher standard of living. All those productivity gains have gone to the owners of capital. The whole social contract in America has broken down. And I’ve been waiting for decades for the people to do something about it. But they seem too busy just trying to make ends meet to do anything else.

In addition to this, conservatives have gotten really good at defining as “normal” and “moral” the current system that enriches the powerful at the expense of the weak. It reminds me of Newspeak in 1984. The idea of the language was to make it so that people weren’t even able to think heretical thoughts. The very idea of freedom would be gone from people’s minds. I run into people all the time who are poor but somehow think that the capitalist system is God given. We have embraced capitalism in the past because it worked — for both owners and workers. Now it has stopped working for the vast majority of people. But capitalism is embraced for ideological reasons rather than practical ones. And that is evident in the fact that most workers don’t think that capitalism has to prove itself. Capitalism never fails — it is only failed.

So on this Thanksgiving, I hope that you did not have to work. What’s more, I hope that you took care of all your shopping before today so that you don’t have to go down to Safeway to pick something up. All that does is convince our corporate masters that everything must be open on Thanksgiving. But most of all, I hope you don’t sneak down to one of those horrible pre-Black-Friday sales. Trust me: you don’t need all that crap anyway.

Enjoy Thanksgiving! We may not have it much longer.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Politics, Social

Why All the Uncle Bashing?

Drunk UncleThe fine people at Vox have put together, How to Survive Your Family’s Thanksgiving Arguments. It deals with everything from football to Common Core to Bill Cosby. And it is really good — as usual. But I couldn’t help but notice a whole lot of avuncularism — or uncle bashing. Why is it always the drunk, Fox News watching uncle who everyone is protecting themselves from at the family gathering? As an uncle, I am sort of offended.

Do you know what I’m doing on today? I’m at my sister’s place cooking dinner. And do you know what I did yesterday? I spent all day cooking in preparation for today. Now you may think you have me, “If you are doing this, how is it that you are writing this article?! Hmm?” Well, I’m actually writing this on Tuesday and I started this article on Monday. Such is the commitment that I have to you, gentle reader, that I write like a madman before holidays so that you are constantly informed and entertained. Speaking of which, look: cool motorcycle dog:

Cool Motorcycle Dog

Let’s consider the Midterm Elections. Brother says voting is pointless. Sister-in-law has read her Thomas Frank. And Uncle says:

It’s over for Democrats. Since they got destroyed this year, they’re doomed in 2016, too.

Because you know Uncle: he’s stupid and drunk. But on this one issue, he’s surprisingly reasonable. Here he is in all his glory on Ferguson:

I’m angry that Americans aren’t standing behind Darren Wilson. He’s a standup cop who was just trying to do his job. I’m outraged that anyone would criticize a law enforcement officer.

I guess I should be pleased that it wasn’t, “Those goddamned n*****s deserve to die!” But really, it’s still bad: totally predictable and lacking any empathy. Uncle is an authoritarian, who doesn’t even have reasonable things to say about The Hunger Games:

These books are trash, because kids read trash, and kids read The Hunger Games.

Translation: “I’m a bitter and hateful man!” But this isn’t me! I’ll admit, by the end of Thanksgiving, I’ll probably be modestly drunk. But that is much more likely to cause me to bring out the puppets than it is to even rant about how conservatives are destroying the nation. (Which they are.)

I think I understand why the uncle has become associated with the bigoted conservative who annoys everyone at family gatherings. First, the person who does this is almost always a man. Second, it probably isn’t your father or your brother. That’s not to say that they aren’t also bigoted conservatives. But you are used to them. They probably won’t say much because everyone knows what they think. Third, “uncle” has become a catchall for “that guy we don’t know very well.” So I’m not really offended.

But if you want to know how to deal with drunken uncles, my suggestion: deliver a puppet with every drink.

4 Comments

Filed under Politics, Social

Charles Austin Beard

Charles Austin BeardOn this day in 1874, the great historian Charles Austin Beard was born. I think what matters in historians is if they provide us with new ways of viewing the world. Beard was very much this kind of historian. It’s funny, having been born in 1964, I think I came of age in a great time of American hagiography and apologetics. No one seemed terribly interested in taking a cold, hard look at where this nation had come from and what it had become. And then came the time of Reagan. And now to even mention that the United States isn’t the best country that ever has been and ever could be is an act of heresy by those on the right.

As I discussed last year: Charles Beard was a progressive who saw the history of America through the lens of class conflict. This view has fallen out of favor. But his idea applied to the founding of the country seems correct. He argued that there were two revolutions. First, there was the revolution that we all know and love and that is immortalized with singing and a bit of dance in 1776. But there was a second revolution about who should rule. There were those who wanted at least a proto-democracy, as advocated by people like Paine and Madison. And then there were those who wanted a new aristocratic rule, as advocated by people like Adams and Hamilton. I think we can all agree that the results of that revolution are much more a muddle compared to the whole England business.

Beard argued that the original revolution was really all about economics and not much about the ideology that we now tell ourselves. Gerald Horne has done more recent work updating this concept in, The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. The thesis is that a lot of the American owning class was in a big rush to sever ties with England because of the fear that the mother country was going to outlaw the slave trade. There is no question that this is true; the only question is how big a current it was in the revolution. I think it was fairly big.

That’s the great thing about people like Beard: they expand our minds. That is why conservatives hate them. Open minds question the status quo. And that is what all intellectual activity should be about. We want to improve upon the world. Conservatives want to ossify it.

Happy birthday Charles Beard!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Birthdays, Politics

Darren Wilson Had Defense at Grand Jury

Demon WeedThis whole Darren Wilson grand jury thing is really starting to bug me. I’ve always thought that the police were above the law and they can get away with anything at all. But really, that is just a matter of trials — not grand jury indictments. And in this one, the more I learn, the more it is clear that all the evidence was dumped on the grand jury and then the prosecutors acted as defense attorneys. That’s just amazing, and of course, it just shows that all the discriminatory policing that the African American community suffers under in Ferguson is just one part of the problem.

The most recent bit of evidence regarding this came from a German Lopez article in Vox, Grand Jury Testimony Suggested Marijuana Made Michael Brown Violent. That’s Unlikely. That’s an obvious point on its surface. When Ezra Klein first tweeted out his article about Darren Wilson’s testimony seeming bizarre, there was one guy who responded multiple times with things like, “Brown had THC levels in his blood high enough to induce paranoia.” I just love this kind of thing because it is used every time to claim that this or that person must have been acting strange as though they were on PCP. (And people’s “strange” behavior on PCP itself is greatly exaggerated.)

What really struck me was Lopez’s description of a forensic pathologist who testified that it was unlikely that cannabis would have made Brown aggressive. After saying this, a prosecutor followed up:

Can I just clarify something here, doctor? Your credentials are as a forensic pathologist, although you have a working understanding of toxicology, you are not a toxicologist, correct?

This is a prosecutor at a grand jury throwing cold water on testimony backing up the victim in the crime. This is shocking. Truly shocking.

What I think happened was that Robert McCulloch had absolutely no intention of indicting Darren Wilson. But the political environment was too toxic for that. So he not only decided to throw all the evidence at the grand jury – he decided to put his department in charge of mounting what is undoubtedly a illegal defense of Wilson.

It is now clear how the whole thing went. The prosecution led with Darren Wilson’s testimony and everything followed from there. So once he talked about Michael Brown acting like a “demon,” the grand jury (which lots of help from the “prosecution”) latched onto Brown’s use of cannabis. There you have it: Brown was high and those people are cable of anything. And if one forensic witness disputes that, he can be beaten down. And don’t worry: the prosecution will absolutely, positively not bring in any witnesses that they consider are experts in that field. Because the prosecution absolutely, positively was on Darren Wilson’s side.

The whole thing is shameful, and I now feel far worse about the grand jury in particular and the judicial system in St Louis County than I did when I first heard that Darren Wilson would not be indicted. I would be all for this if it were the new normal — that all accused will get this treatment. But, of course, we know that such special treatment will only be offered to police and other representatives of the power elite.

2 Comments

Filed under Politics

Max Blumenthal Is an Anti-Semite in Germany

Max BlumenthalBased on what I knew about Germany and its national pathology and its failure to really take the right lessons from its own history, I was hardly surprised by the reaction that I received for attempting to describe the situation in Israel-Palestine. For instance, I wasn’t surprised that there were attempts to shut my talks with David Sheen down. However, when I was so promiscuously described as an anti-Semite, including by gentile politicians like Volker Beck, and that this behavior was considered perfectly normal in German society, I have to admit to some level of shock…

[T]his is a sick society that hasn’t addressed the core political and psychological and social trends that lead to the Holocaust. If anything it’s simply repackaged them beneath the fog of Holocaust guilt…

According to the commonly accepted German national narrative, because of the Holocaust, Germany gives Israel Dolphin class submarines with launching tubes retrofitted for launching nuclear missiles. And because of the Holocaust, Germany gives Israel discounted Corvette boats to attack fishermen in the Gaza Strip who are ghettoized and permanently confined to the second most densely populated place on Earth, surrounded by walls and remote controlled machine gun turrets — all because of the Holocaust. How this honors the millions turned to ash is beyond me.

—Max Blumenthal
Quoted in, The Minds of Others

Leave a Comment

Filed under Politics, Quotations

Economics Isn’t Physics, or Even Climate Science

Naked EconomistPaul Krugman announced some good news this morning, Keynes Is Slowly Winning. It seems that the OECD has changed course from its devastating focus on fiscal austerity toward stimulus. In fact, it has appointed one of Krugman’s old students, Catherine Mann, as its chief economist. But I was struck by one line in Krugman’s article. After noting that “the ground is shifting,” he said, “It has taken a while.” Indeed, it has. And it highlights something that has been on my mind: economics is no kind of science.

I think most people understand very well that economics is not like physics. Physics allows scientists to run experiments and really break down the world into discrete parts for study. So generally, economics is seen more like climate science. They are both fields where the phenomena are very complex and one must depend upon macroscopic observation and computer models. Yet economics doesn’t behave much like climate science. And it doesn’t even have the excuse of running into the practical world with political ramifications — they both do.

At its best, science makes marginal progress. The idea of anthropogenic global warming was first suggested long before there was much empirical evidence for it. And the scientific community did not latch onto it. But as the evidence got stronger, the scientific consensus got stronger. There may be politically motivated hacks like Fred Singer, but that isn’t the field; there are similarly inclined deniers of evolution, but no one suggests that there isn’t a scientific consensus.

But what has happened in economics? In the 1970s, stagflation caused the economics profession to go crazy — throwing out the demand-side thinking of Keynes and adopting a radical new approach to macroeconomics. It’s only fairly recently that economists (on the “left”) have started to realize that stagflation was not cause for a radical new theory but for minor changes to the Keynesian model. And in the end, this period of scientific psychosis seems to have been caused by a kind of insecurity on the part of the economists. They wanted a field that was built on first principles, like the real scientific field of physics. They seemed not to notice that physics has never solved the many-body problem. Complexity requires different tools.

Similarly, after the financial crisis of 2008, it seemed to be open season on loony ideas. I think that it was the ultimate proof that the profession had totally messed up in the 1970s. So I guess it was understandable that the profession would be in crisis. But in general, it didn’t see it that way. Even people as reasonable as Noah Smith seemed to think there was only minor disruption and in the end it turned out that economists had a good bead on The Truth™. But even if that’s true, it doesn’t explain how economists on the right (The very idea ought to stop people from referring to economics as a science!) lapsed into what can only be called apologetics. “How can we justify our ideology?!”

In addition to this, the economics profession has quite respectable and clearly smart people like Greg Mankiw who are big believers in Keynesian stimulus — as long as a Republican is in the White House. And what is so aggravating is that the economists who are most inclined to think of themselves as “hard scientists” are the ones who operate most as apologists. I understand, for example, that Ken Rogoff is a serious scientist and his papers are careful. But that doesn’t stop him running around the world making broad — And wrong! — political statements.

Economics first developed out of the field of moral philosophy. And it still is moral philosophy. The fact that people use math doesn’t change that. And I think it’s perfectly fine that economics is part of moral philosophy. The problem is that modern economists — especially on the right — want to claim the mantle of objective science, even while they are pushing a philosophy — and one that even many liberal economists believe shows that the power status quo is just great.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Politics, Science & Data

Law Enforcement: Home of Pussies

Darren WilsonI continue to be amazed at what pussies police officers are. But no one seems to notice — most of all the officers themselves. Every time one of them — usually with other officers and armed with clubs, mace, tasers, and guns — shoots, tases, or otherwise brutalized an unarmed civilian, they show not the slightest embarrassment in explaining that they were afraid for their lives. And no media organizations are willing to call them on their public expressions of cowardice because they supposedly have such dangerous jobs.

It was thus not at all a shock that Darren Wilson testified in the no-prosecution grand jury that he was vewy vewy scared. This is my favorite line, “And when I grabbed him, the only way I can describe it is I felt like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan.” Translation: “I’m used to the people I oppress being easy to manhandle!” Okay. Whatever. But if Wilson is going to admit that he couldn’t handle an unarmed 18-year-old and that he was justified in shooting Michael Brown six times, can we at least all admit quite publicly that Wilson is a pussy who can only manage confrontations with his club, mace, taser, and gun? Must we continue on with this fantasy that it is perfectly all right to totally blow confrontations like this and that it shows police officers like Darren Wilson are strong and capable?

I’ve also been impressed with the pictures of Wilson in the hospital. I’m not saying that I’m some tough guy, because I’m not. I take great pride in avoiding conflict and being a coward. Being brave is overrated. Brave people get killed. But Darren Wilson’s wounds just don’t look that bad to me. They look like the sort of things that can happen during a collision on the basketball court. That’s not to say that they aren’t serious. That’s not to say that I wouldn’t feel as though my life had been in danger if I had received such wounds. But we’ve already established: I’m a coward. All I want is a public admission that Darren Wilson is too. Of course, I’m not a bully who hides behind a badge, club, mace, taser, gun, and a whole department of other armed men — most of whom I assume are not pussies:

I don’t think all cowards are created equal, however. For example, I’m not sure that in the cold light of day, I would just make stuff up to save my skin. And I can’t say that Darren Wilson did that either. But I am very much in agreement with Ezra Klein, Officer Darren Wilson’s Story Is Unbelievable. Literally. The story seems made up — or at least coached. Wilson’s narrative includes “plot points” like this one that highlights the stolen cigars:

I was doing the, just scrambling, trying to get his arms out of my face and him from grabbing me and everything else. He turned to his… if he’s at my vehicle, he turned to his left and handed the first subject. He said, “here, take these.” He was holding a pack of — several packs of cigarillos which was just, what was stolen from the Market Store was several packs of cigarillos. He said, “here, hold these” and when he did that I grabbed his right arm trying just to control something at that point. Um, as I was holding it, and he came around, he came around with his arm extended, fist made, and went like that straight at my face with his… a full swing from his left hand.

Shorter, “He was beating me up; he stopped to flash the evidence of his crime; he continued beating me up.” It’s not credible.[1] And that’s especially true when you consider that he testified a month after the shooting — more than enough time to hone his testimony. Again, that doesn’t mean he is lying. When you are in the middle of a confrontation, you don’t necessarily process events carefully. That’s especially true if you are a coward. And after days and days of working with attorneys, one isn’t necessarily even aware of how “truth” is being manufactured.

So Michael Brown is dead. Darren Wilson faces no consequences. Now he will probably get a job for another police department. (I assume it would be difficult to integrate him back into the Ferguson Police Department.) And I suppose that we’ve decided that this is just fine. Pussies are welcome everywhere in law enforcement. Who needs bravery and manliness when you have clubs, mace, tasers, and guns? And tanks; don’t forget the tanks!


[1] According to Dorian Johnson, Michael Brown’s companion, the cigarillos were transferred to him in the middle of the fight. However, Brown does this because he’s trying to get free from Wilson who has him by the collar. That makes a whole lot more sense. Wilson isn’t in a position to do much more than pull on Brown. Brown was trying to extricate himself and could use another hand. The whole of Johnson’s testimony is far more credible. Wilson would have us believe that he was “officer friendly.” But we’ve seen what he is like in a general sense: a little man with a chip on his shoulder and a gun in his hand.

2 Comments

Filed under Politics

Mary Edwards Walker

Mary Edwards Walker - Medal of HonorOn this day in 1832, the great feminist Mary Edwards Walker was born. It is wrong to call her simply a feminist. She was many things, including a surgeon. She worked for the Union Army during the Civil War. In fact, while treating Confederate soldiers across enemy lines, she was captured by the traitors and accused of spying. She was later released in a prisoner exchange. After the war, she was given the Medal of Honor — the only woman to ever be given one.

There is a strange story about it, though. In 1917, Congress passed a law giving pensions to Medal of Honor recipients. The Army took the opportunity to re-evaluate the recipients (the Navy did not). They decided to knock 911 names off the list — one of which was Walker’s. She still wore the medal for her two remaining years of life. But you just have to wonder what the army thought it was doing removing those names. Regardless, Walker’s medal was restored by President Carter in 1977.

Mary Edwards Walker - Top Hat (1911)Walker was prominent in the women’s suffrage movement. She pushed the idea that woman already had the right to vote and there was no need to alter the Constitution. When this approach did not work, the movement transitioned to calling for a Constitutional amendment. But Walker never changed. This marginalized her in the movement. She was further marginalized by her opinions about dress. She felt that women should be allowed to dress as men if they thought it proper. She normally wore men’s clothing, including a trademark top hat.

Happy birthday Mary Edwards Walker!

Leave a Comment

Filed under Birthdays, Politics