Recycled Genius

Recycle"Democratic and Republican candidates for president have spent endless hours debating issues around national security, the economy, and healthcare. But there's one more question voters should consider before they head to the polls on Tuesday: where do the candidates stand on the Superhero Registration Act? ...

"So, in the spirit of public service, we contacted every major presidential campaign and asked where their candidate stood on the superhero registration issue. Only one gave us a definitive answer: Bernie Sanders.

"Yes, we can now reveal that the Bernie Sanders campaign is #TeamCap, endorsing Captain America in this year's fictional Marvel showdown." —Gavia Baker-Whitelaw


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Why So Many Conservative Game Show Hosts?

Alex Trebek - Conservative Game Show HostsI was talking to Will the other day, and he mentioned that Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek was a conservative. I didn't know that, but it didn't surprise me. I've noticed a few things about him. One is that he seems to have no sense of the humiliation that players feel when they aren't doing well. He clearly and (as the supposed neutral host) unfairly shows an eagerness to see the current champion win. And most of all, his sexism shines through. That's particularly telling, because you would think that for the good of the show, more female winners would be good.

But I've noticed in the past that there really are a lot of conservative game show hosts, in as much as we can tell. The most obvious example is Pat Sajak, who is a far right climate change denier. I've often wondered why this is, so I went looking and came upon a reprint of an article written by Rebecca Dana back in 2010, Why Game-Show Hosts Vote Republican. It unfortunately doesn't provide a lot of answers as to why there are so many conservative game show hosts. It's probably because it is an obscure issue and there aren't a bunch of experts on game shows, much less the political leanings of their hosts.

But she does discuss the matter with game show expert, Olaf Hoerschelmann. He provided two quotes that are worth thinking about:

  1. "To have the right sensibility to be a game-show host, you do have to have a belief in rugged individualism — either you make it or you're not worth it."
  2. "Generally the ideology of acquiring money and achieving fortune through luck goes along pretty well with a certain basic capitalist attitude."

I think there is a lot to the first quote. In a world where nothing is clear — where it is all shades of grey — it probably is very attractive to conservatives to have something like a game where there is a clear winner. I, of course, hate this kind of thing. Even at my most fanatical as a chess player, it was never about winning — it was about the process, the creativity, and personal betterment. But for most chess players, winning is all that matters, which is why I didn't really continue on in the game after I had reached a level where I thought I really understood it.

Hoerschelmann's second quote is much more interesting. That's the thing about most game shows: the prizes are not at all fairly distributed. If the top player on Jeopardy! ends with $15,000 and the next player ends with $14,999, that second player goes home with the standard second place prize: $2,000. Now, you could say that the winner is playing by the rules and would have bet more if the spoils were more evenly shared. Exactly! And if that were the case, Jeopardy! would be a more interesting game. Instead, "Final Jeopardy" is as likely as not to be non-competitive and boring. We might ask why the game is set up that way. And maybe it is as simple as the fact that it was created by Merv Griffin — another conservative.

My Ideas on Conservative Game Show Hosts

But I have another idea why there tend to be a lot of conservative game show hosts. It isn't a job that takes much talent. That means, it is more likely to go to someone who is good at working the system — schmoozing with the executives. I have been watching Chuck Woolery since I was ten years old — over 40 years! And I see absolutely nothing that distinguishes him from just about every other game show host.

We can also just deconstruct it. Game show hosts are generally male and rich. Both of those select for conservatism. That doesn't apply to actors, because that's an actual creative activity that draws in liberal minded people. But men who are paid a lot of money to do things that aren't hard: nine out of ten times, that man is going to be a conservative. And that means a lot of conservative game show hosts.

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Paul Krugman: Protector of FOMC Independence, Destroyer of Bernie Sanders

Federal Reserve - FOMCOn Friday, Paul Krugman wrote, On Economic Stupidity. It's nominally about the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee (FOMC) and its independence. The Republicans really have shown a desire to destroy it since a Democrat has been in the White House. But while his attack on Republican economic stupidity is to the point, it is perfunctory. Yes, we know the Republicans are really bad. But let's not forget who the real enemy is: Bernie Sanders. You see, Sanders voted for a bill that would make the Federal Reserve reveal the beneficiaries of its "special lending." Clinton didn't do this, which is a Very Good Thing. Krugman really should just put up a Hillary Clinton 2016 sign on his lawn and be done with it.

Dean Baker sees things a bit differently, but then, he has yet to show himself in the can for one candidate or another. He wrote, Paul Krugman, Bernie Sanders, and the Fed. And he made two points. First, he questions Krugman's assumption (Lots of Krugman unstated assumptions these days!) that what Sanders did was wrong, "To my view, Sanders should be applauded for his actions on this front. It was a bipartisan effort that gave us more information about what went on in the crisis and the extent to which specific banks benefited from access to the Fed’s money."

The FOMC Is Political

The second point is more interesting. The FOMC is made up of 12 members: 7 appointed by the government and 5 effectively appointed by the big banks. Right now, because of Republican blocking, there are only 5 government appointees, so it is an even split with a 10 member board. So the banks have undue influence, and the Republicans are able to give them even more influence.

Krugman is falling into a trap that he has spotted many times in others over the years. He has written a great deal about how the great "centrist" pundits claim that they have no ideology, when in fact they very much do.

Baker suggests we think about putting together a more diverse group on the FOMC, which includes labor unions, community groups, nonprofits. This might make the Fed more focused on full employment rather than its laser focus on low inflation. True, that would make the Fed a more political institution, but anyone who claims that the Fed is not a political institution is either naive or ignorant.

But Krugman is falling into a trap that he has spotted many times in others over the years. He has written a great deal about how the great "centrist" pundits claim that they have no ideology, when in fact they very much do. I want to be clear: everyone has an ideology. All Krugman is saying here is that he agrees with leaving the system the way it is. And indeed, it has worked well for him. People in the upper parts of the economy have done very well by the Fed because it really has done a great job of keeping the economy stable.

But if you are in the lower part of the economy, you have seen the down side of that stability: difficulty finding work, and low and stagnant wages when you do. But even Krugman admits that the bankers have too much clout at the FOMC. In a blog post following up on his column, he makes the case that the real problem is that people who hang out together tend to think alike, and that the problem isn't "crude corruption." I agree. But somehow, Krugman seems to think this works in Clinton's favor too.

I'll admit, Sanders has done a bad job of explaining this. I certainly don't think that Clinton was "bought" by Goldman Sachs. Rather, she is of a type. Would she be in favor of changing the makeup of the FOMC? I don't think so. Does that matter? Well, Paul Krugman certainly doesn't think so. But that may just be because he is so laser focused on the true enemy in 2016: Bernie Sanders.


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Morning Music: Louis Durey

Louis DureyLouis Durey is the least know member of Les Six. That's no accident. He doesn't seem to have wanted to be part of it. He was friends with Francis Poulenc. But even in the famous Jacques-Émile Blanche painting of the group, he is far in the back, looking away. Is he conducting? I don't know. But although he participated in the 1920 Les Six collaboration, he refused to be part of the 1921 collaboration. Around that time, he left Paris and didn't return for decades to come.

He's a very interesting composer. He's the only one of them who had clearly been influenced by Arnold Schoenberg. And he is a composer one does not associate with Les Six. But the thing about 12-tone composition is that it really can be just about anything the composer wants it to be. I have heard 12 tone pieces that sounded more or less tonal and others that sounded like noise. And I have never heard any of Louis Durey's 12 tone work. But in his later work, I think I can hear some of that influence.

Louis Durey was self-taught. He didn't even decide to pursue music until he was almost 20. But that may explain why, even though he was the oldest of Les Six, his is the most avant garde. At the same time, great care is taken in his music. And it is very often quite lyrical. That's definitely the case with Sonatine for Flute and Piano, but I can't find an acceptable recording of it. So instead, I'm going to share with you something reasonably similar, Trio per Oboe Clarinetto e Fagotto.

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Anniversary Post: Émile Henry's Bourgeois Attack

Émile Henry's AttackOn this day in 1894, the anarchist Émile Henry threw a bomb into the Café Terminus, killing one and injuring 20 more. At his trial, he was asked why he killed so many innocent people. He apparently replied, "There are no innocent bourgeois." I think that's a fascinating answer.

I don't believe in violence. It is one of those things that almost always seems like a good idea before, and a bad idea after. It really doesn't matter what it is. People always grab onto World War II. But the reasons we have for justifying it were not the reasons we got into it. But I'll grant that there are times when violence does some good. But it is so rare that it isn't much worth thinking about.

But Émile Henry's retort speaks to me. I don't say that as an outsider but very much as an insider. Mostly, I don't see myself as directly complicit in the evils of the world. But there is no doubt that the quality of my life is improved by the system of oppression. It isn't something I wallow in, because it's bad enough to benefit from it, but it's worse for the world to be polluted by my polite guilt.

If I had real strength in my beliefs, I could go off to some remote place and become a subsistence farmer. But I freak out when a spider crawls on my desk. I'm not the kind of man who is capable of making bold gestures. Of course, we could say the same thing of Émile Henry. He was born into an upper class (albeit a radical) household. It's a curious way to deal with your own privilege: by killing others in your class. It strikes me as a selfish act. If he were alive today, Émile Henry would probably be a libertarian and claim to be freeing the poor by cutting the taxes on the rich.

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Is It Time to Say Goodbye to "Literally"?

Not LiterallyThe word "literally" is most troubling to me. And I believe it may be time us to bid it a fond farewell.

I am something of a connoisseur of grammar snobbery. I hate grammar snobs, but it is fun to keep note of what little things drive them crazy. A friend of mine recently used the word "principal" in an email where he meant "principle." I saw no reason to alert him to the error, because I'm sure he does know the difference. I make these kind of mistakes all the time myself. I constantly find myself typing "their" when I mean "there." And even more bizarre, "their are" when I mean "they're."

Such errors can indicate ignorance, but they almost never do. I went through a short period where I repeatedly spelled "thone" as "thrown." A reader kindly alerted me. But it wasn't that I didn't know how to spell the word. It's just that I use the word "thrown" all the time and "throne" almost never. And I literally didn't even think about it. But had George RR Martin put out a book called A Game of Throwns, my mind would have gone on tilt.


One of the greatest of the pedant's concerns is the word "literally" when it is used to mean "not literally." For example, "His suitcase literally weighed a ton." Unless we are talking about some curious event out of a Discworld, that suitcase did not weight a literal ton. The speaker means to say that the suitcase was really heavy. More to the point, "His suitcase figuratively weighed a ton." But that there is a sentence that no one could love.

For a long time, as a writer, I've been very careful with the word. I try only to use it in its old sense. But now I think it is best to get rid of it.

The problem for the grammar pedant is that the dictionary definition of "literally" does, in fact, include the meaning, "not literally; figuratively." Now I know what the pedants answer back with when this is pointed out, "Just because something has been done wrong a long time doesn't make it right!" But they are wrong. Just look at our language! It is mostly a collection of things done wrong for a long time. That's what languages are — unless they are Esperanto. Really! You think Latin is perfect. Ha!

I've written about this subject before, Why "Literally" Normally Means "Not Literally." So it might seem strange that I'm bringing it up again. But I was reading an article by Brian Beutler Saturday morning, Will Marco Rubio Finally Be Tested? And in that article, he wrote the dastardly sentence, "Over the past several months, Rubio has: introduced a tax plan that literally zeroes out investment and inheritance taxes..."

Beutler is a good writer and what he means is that Rubio introduced a tax plan that in fact cuts these taxes to zero. In other words, he used "literally" to mean, well, "literally." But I still had to take a moment and think, "Does he mean literally literally or figuratively literally?" This is not his fault! But the word has become poisoned to such an extent, that my assumption is that the writer means "figuratively." And that's bad news for the "correct" use of the word.

For a long time, as a writer, I've been very careful with the word. I try only to use it in its old sense. But now I think it is best to get rid of it. It's just one more intensifier in a language that is quickly becoming nothing but. What are we to do? It's just confusing at this point, and I doubt very seriously that the old definition will last the century.

There's another problem with the word anyway: it isn't necessary. Beutler could have written, "Over the past several months, Rubio has: introduced a tax plan that zeroes out investment and inheritance taxes..." No need for "literally." Just the same, so much of writing is not strictly necessary. In that sentence, Beutler was using the word as an intensifier — to drive home the extreme nature of what Rubio is proposing. But there are other ways to do that. I think "amazingly" and "unbelievably" would work better.

So maybe we can all get by without our little friend "literally." I'm going to try.


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Eric Cantor and the Mediocrity of the Successful

Eric CantorI first started reading Jonathan Chait not because of his analysis (which is usually pretty good) but because he's a damned funny guy. But he doesn't show it off as much as he used to. But yesterday, he was in fine form, Eric Cantor Shocked by Trump's Victory, Also Everything That Has Ever Happened. Mike Allen had reported that Cantor made a bet that Trump would not win a single primary. Well, Trump has now won a primary. And it's kinda hard to see how he doesn't win at least a few more. In fact, he looks really good to win the nomination.

The joke in Chait's article is that Eric Cantor has this habit of being horribly wrong about just about everything. When he lost his primary back in 2014, his internal polling apparently indicated that he was ahead by 34 percentage points! Can you imagine? It shows a shocking lack of management. Who did he have running his campaign? Did he have no ears on the ground checking to see if the folk were restless?

Not only this, Cantor lost a whole bunch of money in 2010 because he bet that interest rates would go up. Well, as pretty much any economist would have told him at the time: interest rates would stay low as long as the economy was weak. But among conservatives it was just "known" that inflation was going to go wild because stimulus blah blah blah and printing money blah blah blah. But how could Eric Cantor know? He was only House Majority Leader. It's not like he was a sophisticated person.

Well, Chait brilliantly put together the absurdity that is Eric Cantor:

But now, Cantor, freed from Congress, is working for an investment firm called Moelis & Company: "Whether you are looking at Washington DC proper, the northern Virginia technology corridor or some very well-known companies based in Maryland, these firms need innovative, independent banking advice and Moelis & Company is well positioned to provide it." So people who want to bet their money on Cantor's ability to see the future know where to go.

Eric Cantor Is Typical

Here's the thing: Eric Cantor is not exceptional in being a hugely successful mediocrity. He is the rule. Cantor comes from money. But his success is mostly due to the typical kind of guy who is smart enough to get through college but socially stunted to the point of fitting in perfectly at Phi Sigma Kappa. And once you are a member of the club, well, you are set. A lot of people thought he got his $3.4 million job because of services rendered. I don't really think so. I think it's more the other way around: as a guy who was part of the club that knew despite his incompetence that he would get a multi-million dollar job offer, he just naturally did the bidding for his friends.

This is what continues to amaze me about America. So many people think this is a meritocracy. It is not at all. The vast majority of traditionally successful people I know are mediocrities. People are surprised when a successful businessman makes a boneheaded mistake. But the error these people make is in thinking that "success" in our plutocracy has much of anything to do with intelligence or even being successful. Because people like Eric Cantor will be successful — regardless of how many chances they have to be given.


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Morning Music: Darius Milhaud

Darius MilhaudOf all Les Six, Darius Milhaud is probably the most charming. And you know that is a word I use a lot to describe the group. He integrated traditional melodies into his work. And although most jokes that composers put into their works are subtle, Milhaud is kind of like the Charlie Chaplin of composers.

In addition to everything else, Darius Milhaud composed at a furious pace. I've only heard a small fraction of his work. But I quite enjoy it all. His speed was not an indication of a lack of quality. You will see this if you check out a selection of his work. I really encourage you to do so. Unlike most modern composers, his work is lyrical and fun.

He was also a major music teacher during the last century. In 1940, he and his family were forced to flee France because he was nominally Jewish. He ended up at Mills College, which is just down the road from me. Leave it to a French man to end up at a woman's college! But the school did accept men in its graduate program, which is where he taught such luminaries as Dave Brubeck, Philip Glass, and Burt Bacharach. Apparently, Darius Milhaud once told Bacharach, "Don't be afraid of writing something people can remember and whistle. Don't ever feel discomfited by a melody."

Darius Milhaud's Suite for Clarinet, Violin and Piano

Today, we listen to his Suite for Clarinet, Violin and Piano. It was composed in 1936 and combines Darius Milhaud's usual complex, but fundamentally tonal, harmony and singable melodies. And it is almost certainly the reason that I bought a clarinet recently.

The format of the piano, violin, and clarinet trio is really a twentieth century invention. It's a curious combination and so I'm not surprised that it didn't become a thing earlier. But it works remarkably well. And it really took off in the 20th century -- to such an extent that there are a number of established trios. Now you might think that this would be a problem, given that most of the repertoire consists of very recent pieces. But this is probably seen as an advantage. In my experience, performers don't much like playing the old stuff. They usually most like playing music that I can't really "hear."

The quote from Bacharach above is definitely true here.

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Anniversary Post: Emperor Jimmu and National Foundation Day

Emperor JimmuHappy National Foundation Day everyone! Don't know what it is? Neither did I. Supposedly, on this day in 660 BCE, Emperor Jimmu founded Japan. You might question this given that he was supposed to have lived from 711 BCE to 585 BCE, which would have made him 126 years old when he died, which is over three years older than the oldest person who ever lived (that we can verify). It's also about two years older than what seems to be the theoretical maximum age of humans due to cell regeneration. Just the same, no one seems to actually believe that Emperor Jimmu lived to be that old.

In the Kojiki, oldest extant history of Japan dating back to the early 8th century, it says that Emperor Jimmu was a real guy. That's a long time between event and history, however: roughly 1,400 years. Plus, the Kojiki is where we get the 126 year lifespan. And in the Nihon Shoki (written a decade after the Kojiki), it tells us his reign was from 660 BCE to 585 BCE. That's a reign of 75 years! And one that started when he was 51?! Kind of old to be conquering countries. So clearly, by that time, much myth had been introduced into the story. And it strikes me as fanciful. But any reason for holiday is good by me!

Huangdi (the Yellow Emperor) is said to have started the Chinese civilization back about 2700 BCE. And he just so happen to reign for a century. Of course, there is no doubt that he is mythical. He only started being referred to as a historical figure some 2,500 years after his supposed rule. He appears to have been a god that was later historicized.

Emperor Jimmu: Real Myth?

But Emperor Jimmu could have been a real guy, just papered over with myth. But you have to follow the list of emperors roughly a thousand years before you start to see anything that looks normal: short rules, reasonable life lengths. The supposed 11th emperor at the beginning of the first century, Suinin, supposedly ruled for 41 years and died at the age of 138. Not that it makes sense to try to make sense of it, but that would mean he became emperor at the age of 97.

Regardless, myth is important. But there is a down side to this kind of thing. It gives the impression that Japan was started by someone. And that isn't true. Even people who fetishize George Washington understand that he didn't found the United States — that it is the result of an entire social movement, centuries in the making. At least, I hope they do.


Filed under Anniversaries, Politics

Coen Brothers and the Stupidity of Film Rankings

Coen BrothersIs it okay to tell Erik Loomis to shut up? I mean, he's a brilliant guy. I love his political analysis and his discussions of labor history. But does that mean that I have to sit by and just accept it when he writes, The Coen Brothers Films, Ranked. Look, I get it. I've done it myself — sort of — in Rotten Tomatoes for Orson Welles. But in general, I hate rankings just as I hate stars or anything else that tries to quantify the quality of art.

It reminds me of those lists of the most expensive paintings. But I don't think anyone ever takes those rankings to mean that these are the best. All they show is what kind of people the super rich are. It shows an extremely limited set of tastes and a huge reliance on what conventional wisdom thinks of as "nice" art. It's not that I dislike it. In fact, the top ten include paintings by Cézanne and Modigliani, who I am very fond of (although not so much the particular paintings). I suppose this ranking of Coen Brothers films tell us something about Erik Loomis too. And it isn't good.

Erik Loomis is responding to an even more disastrous ranking by Bilge Ebiri, Every Coen Brothers Movie, Ranked From Worst to Best. That's the problem with people who are supposed to know about film: they insist upon being difficult. For example, he ranks Raising Arizona as the best Coen Brothers film. It isn't just that I have long felt that to be by far their most overrated film, it is the obvious "people who aren't that into the Coens like it" double-bluff. Give it a rest!

At least Erik Loomis has the advantage of making a top pick that I know is what he really thinks: The Big Lebowski. Then he (and Ebiri) fall into mostly a lot of conventional wisdom (although Ebiri, to his credit, ranks the difficult masterpiece The Man Who Wasn't There highly). They both hate The Ladykillers. And they are lukewarm on The Hudsucker Proxy. Now that's really interesting, in that the two films are going for the same kind of comedy. Just the same, they both love Fargo and No Country for Old Men. Again: similar in type. So isn't it more correct that these guys are just telling us what they want the Coen Brothers to do and nothing at all about what the Coen Brothers are actually trying to do?

Comparing Coen Brothers' Diverse Style

How do you compare The Hudsucker Proxy to Blood Simple? Really! It's like trying to compare Nu Couché au coussin Bleu with Andrew Wiles' proof of Fermat's Last Theorem. Different films are doing different things.

I always hate it when people say, "That film wasn't funny!" Really?! It's much more likely that the problem was the viewer and not the film. I thought that Dumb and Dumber was stupid and I shut it off after about five minutes. But loads of other people thought it was hilarious. The film is what it is, and apparently works brilliantly on its own terms. It's not my kind of film — at least not when I tried to watch it. When InSession Film asked what "my" favorite Coen Brothers film was, I said it was hard to say. I think Barton Fink is a perfect film, but that O Brother, Where Art Thou? is the one I enjoy watching the most.

Neither of our rankers think much Barton or O Brother. And neither of them really have a reason for it. It really just comes down to what they like and then filling in the details as to why — or, in many cases, not. I could write several thousand words on why No Country for Old Men is not the masterpiece that people claim. Much of the plot makes little sense. It's more or less The Terminator set in west Texas. But the fact is that the film is everything that it tries to be. That's true of most Coen Brothers films. It's a whole lot better to spend an article talking about why you like Raising Arizona or The Big Lebowski than it is to put together a list that probably changes from year to year anyway.

Afterword: Coen Brothers

For the record, I admire the Coen Brothers, but I'm not a fanatic. I haven't seen all their films. Pretty much, True Grit broke me. After that, it seemed clear that the boys were really not that interested in making innovative films anymore. I'm probably wrong. But I've never made a fetish of the Coen Brothers. They are damned fine filmmakers. And every one of their films I've seen was at least a worthy effort.


Filed under Film, TV & Theater

Could Sanders Win? Why Is Clinton Whining?!

Hillary ClintonWith Bernie Sanders' better than expected finish in New Hampshire, I decided to go and look at the road ahead. And what I found really confused me. I mean: really. Why the full freak out? Why did Gloria Steinem go off on the youngins? Why is there now apparently a whole industry for psychoanalyzing the youth of today and why they totally don't get it? Because the road ahead looks bad for Sanders in terms of winning the nomination. Really bad. So why so much whining from the Clinton campaign?

Look: I understand that things can get out of hand. I know that Bernie Sanders is going to get a bump because of his win in New Hampshire. But have you looked at the polls in the upcoming states?! They are not good for Sanders. Here are the Real Clear Politics averages for the next few states:

The only one that Sanders has any kind of chance at is Nevada because it is a caucus state and there isn't much polling and it is old. If Sanders does manage to win that, it will look bad for the Clinton campaign. But I just don't see it changing things in Texas and Georgia. I don't see how Bernie manages to win the nomination. The odds are stacked badly against him.

Has Clinton Campaign Harmed Itself?

At the same time, various Clinton surrogates have done much to alienate Sanders supporters — most especially young ones — and even more most especially young female ones. And for what?! Because even the smallest chance of Clinton not getting the nomination is totally unacceptable? It strikes me as total madness. And I know: some will say that I'm naive. They will say that Sanders has "momentum." And I would say to those people: you don't understand much about political science. There is no such thing as momentum. That's a myth that was created by people on television so they could sound smart when talking about contests they really know little about.

Last summer, I found myself on a lot of liberal blogs with Clinton supporters and I talked a lot about how they should calm down. So this whole thing has been going on for a long time. And it doesn't speak well of the Clinton campaign nor the Democratic Party. I think the Republicans have actually been better about Trump. At least they spent most of their time attacking him and not his supporters. What's more, Trump is actually winning. He got twice as many votes as his nearest competitor in New Hampshire. And he looks poised to do it again in South Carolina.

What it reminds me of is the old saying, "Republicans fear their base; Democrats hate their base." And I'm not just talking about Sanders supporters here. There's this overriding idea that primary voters are idiots and can't be trusted. They must be told what is for their own good! And the interesting thing is that the Democratic Party treats its base very much in the way the Republicans stereotype them treating the people of the nation. But as elected officials, Democrats do not do that; it's the Republicans who try to control the lives of everyone who isn't rich. But when it comes to campaigning, the Democrats seem to be lost.

If Sanders suddenly jumps ahead in South Carolina, then clearly I have misjudged the situation. If not, I don't want to hear it. No whining from people 30 points ahead in the polls!


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Moring Music: Arthur Honegger

Arthur HoneggerAll the Les Six composers had some association with film and theater. This is because of their association with Jean Cocteau. But it's also true that if you were an avant-garde composer in the late teens and early 20s, you couldn't have but be influenced by film. And in the case of Georges Auric, it more or less defined his entire career. And today, I want to present some music by another big film composer in Les Six, Arthur Honegger.

Of all Les Six, Arthur Honegger is probably the most difficult to listen to. His music is deeply layered, which can sound lush and very much like Debussy. But he's also quite fond of dissonance, which can show up at the most unsettling of times. In addition, in his vocal work, he tends to write very sparse instrumentation, which sounds to my ear, very not Les Six.

Arthur Honegger's Pacific 231

But let's listen to his most famous work: Pacific 231. According to him, the idea was to create a piece of music that got more and more momentum as its pace slowed. He wrote this five years before Ravel's Boléro, and it is a far more interesting idea. Not surprisingly, Arthur Honegger named it after a train. It's also the case that he was apparently a train fancier.

In 1949 (over 25 years after Pacific 231 was written), the film theorist Jean Mitry created a film to go along with it. It isn't a narrative. It reminds me somewhat of Sergei Eisenstein in its being so visually striking. It almost seems like the music was created for the film. But that isn't the case, obviously. And I present it here mostly for the music. But the film is quite interesting as well.

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Frank Moraes, Glenn Beck, and Libertarian Insanity

Glenn Beck and Frank Moraes: LibertarianOn this day exactly 52 years ago, radio personality Glenn Beck was born. That just happens to be the exact day that I was born. In most ways, I am not pleased about this. As I have discussed before, his attempt to co-opt the legacy of Thomas Paine was vile. He thinks he's a libertarian! Of course, he's done the same thing with Martin Luther King Jr. He thinks he's not a bigot! Like a lot of modern conservatives, Beck thinks that he is the real radical. In a sense, he's right. But the radicals of the past who he looks up to were working to help the weak. Beck is a radical in the name of helping the powerful.

I am impressed with Beck in that he is a searcher. Unfortunately, some time ago, he discovered The Truth™. And so all his searching goes into the service of discovering what he thinks is the truth. And it has sent him down the rabbit hole that is the world of conspiracy theories. The basis of everything for Beck is Cleon Skousen's The 5,000 Year Leap.

But you have to give the man credit for combining his own bizarre collection of beliefs with a messianic sense. While my father's girlfriend laid dying, she was glued to Beck's television show. She had to be there every day -- the same way as people in cults. She felt that Beck was transmitting secret truths to her. She died before seeing his downfall. But he's still hugely successful on the internet. There are a lot of people like my dad's girlfriend. They never tire of the oracle. I, of course, see him more like this:

A Quick Libertarian History of Frank

As for me, well my life went something like the following. I was raised by a very conservative father and what I would call a swing voting mother. In the fifth grade, I began to see that many of the things that my father had told me weren't exactly true. It was kind of like conservative radio before there was such a thing. So there was always a kernel of truth, but I didn't have the context. This created in me a desire to find, as best as possible, the full truth.

This caused me to bounce around a bit ideologically over the years. The problem with ideology is that it tends to create the kind of shortcuts to truth that got me screwed up with my father when I was a kid. That's because you have this theory about the way the world works and then you simply filter the facts in the pursuit of proving the theory right. Of course, everyone has an ideology. But when it is something ossified like free market fundamentalism or Stalinism, you aren't as nimble intellectually.

When I was first in college, I thought of myself as more or less a liberal. I worked for the nuclear freeze movement and for Michael Dukakis' campaign. And then I met my first wife who turned me onto libertarianism. And if that sounds like she was offering me heroin, good. Because libertarianism is a kind of opioid. It's highly addictive in its facile simplicity and completeness. And as long as you only talk to other libertarians, you will never get over your addiction because you will never want to.

I did, however, talk to a lot of non-libertarians. This was partly the result of my not liking most libertarians. I found them to be mostly conservatives who were unhappy with the purity of the Republican Party. Indeed, that's how the Libertarian Party got started. And by the end of graduate school, my libertarianism was starting to crack. For one thing, it was so theoretical and went so much against my natural inclinations that it was hard to maintain. As I've discussed before, while being a libertarian at that time, I hated it and felt trapped by it.

But then I found an actual physical addiction that was much less dangerous: drugs. But unfortunately, they extended the run of my libertarian habit because I wanted my drugs to be legal. And in varying states of clarity I stayed at that point. But even there, cracks continued to appear. It became clear to me that any libertarian politician was far more interested in cutting my taxes than allowing me my drugs. And even on an economic level, that was a terrible deal for me.

The real turning point for me was George W Bush and the Iraq War. Obviously, as a libertarian, I was fanatically anti-war. Truthfully, as a libertarian, I was far more of a radical than I am now. But I remember that I was working at home during the six months leading up to the Iraq War and I listened to a lot of NPR. And despite what conservatives claim, NPR is about as milquetoast and center of the road as you can get in media. Yet even still, it was clear as day that we were going to war and the Bush administration was just laying out the propaganda in support of it.

I felt I needed to be involved in the fight against that kind of thing. A vote for a libertarian is a vote for a conservative. And there was another part of it: on the drug front, it was the liberals who were actually doing things to help users' lives. They were the ones supporting syringe exchanges; the conservatives largely continue to this day to claim that syringe exchanges promote drug use. But there was a final thing, which is that I was always on the far left of libertarianism anyway.

Once the dam breaks, things rearrange themselves in a more natural way. Maybe my thinking now is too natural — too comfortable. But I probably will die this way. I only have a few working principles. Mostly, I believe we are all interdependent. Our capitalist system distorts reality, benefiting some and harming others far out of proportion to individual worth. And as a result, yes, we who benefit from the system can pay more in taxes. It's either that, or we get a whole new system. And I ask my rich friends: which would you rather it be?

And with that menacing thought, I wish myself and Glenn Beck (who I feel sorry for) a happy birthday.

Update (9 February 2016 9:28 pm)

I really don't appreciate this!

Frank's Birthday Google

I know Google knows all. But I find it kind of creepy.


Filed under Anniversaries, Politics