Since we recently had a pleasure of being visited by a racist troll of the highest caliber, I thought it worth reminding people of where it all started, Racist Conservative Youth Complains About Racism. I don't usually even talk about conservatives of this type, because they are crazy more than thy're conservative. But this guy is a classic dittohead, but without the sense to realize he isn't supposed to make it quite so clear that he is a full on bigot.
I was learning to play the bass guitar when I first heard Get Happy!! The bass playing on it is incredible. That would be Bruce Thomas. For whatever reason, he and Elvis Costello do not get along. I suspect that it is a personal thing. But it could be musical as well. Costello has talked about his tendency to rewrite in the studio. This causes problems for a bass player of Thomas' brilliance. It is hard to get a bass part that really works, and it has got to be annoying to get something that works and have the song suddenly changed.
Regardless, I've always been particularly taken with the bass part on the song "Black & White World." Even after all these years, I don't really know what the song is about. It has various references to photography and cinema — and the difference between the fantasy and reality. But more than that, I can't much say. Still, it is a fine song.
On this day in 3340 BCE, the first solar eclipse was noted. And it was in Ireland of all places. There is much dispute about this. But what the hell: it's a good excuse to talk a bit of eclipses. When I was younger, I always wondered why it was we didn't have solar eclipses on every new moon and lunar eclipses on every full moon.
The reason is because the solar system is really a mess — everything is tilted this way and that. So things have to line up just so in order to get an eclipse. It just so happens that we have very special solar eclipses here on earth because the apparent sizes of the moon and the sun are almost exactly the same. If you were on the moon, you would experience a whole lot more solar eclipses — they would last longer than our eclipses, but they would also not be so stunning in their near perfection.
Regardless, it isn't surprising that we humans would would have been making notes about eclipses for thousands of years. If this Irish notation of a solar eclipse is right, it is around the time that humans first developed written language. In other words: as soon as humans started writing things down, they were writing about eclipses. Because they are amazing.
Jonathan Chait wrote an interesting article at some point last week, Terrorism in the Age of Trump. I want to reflect on something that he mentioned in the article that I've found bizarre: the conservative establishment's belief that the terrorist attacks in Paris would cause Republican base voters to turn away from Trump and toward "reasonable" candidates like Marco Rubio. Who would think such nonsense? Why would the base run from Trump? How is Trump unfit to address ISIS compared to other Republican candidates?
The whole basis of Republican thinking on foreign affairs is that we just have to be "tough" and be willing to do "whatever it takes" and then all will be well. I've been amazed by this kind of thinking my whole life. There are still people who think that we would have won the Vietnam War if only we had nuked the North Vietnamese back to the stone age. According to this way of looking at things, the only reason we don't have clear victories like World War II anymore is because we don't have the political will to destroy an entire country.
Such people have not read their Carl von Clausewitz. They seem to think that the idea of war is to "win" — that we aren't trying to do something else. Given this ridiculous way of thinking, we could beat ISIS by dropping about a thousand nuclear bombs on Iraq and Syria. But what would we have "won"? Would it make terrorist attacks like those on Paris less likely? Hardly. It would make them more likely because the only remaining front would be on the streets of Europe and America.
This is the way that the Republican base thinks about war. In general, they don't think that any country (other than Israel) has an equal claim to existence to our own. And this is an idea that the Republican establishment has pushed for decades. This is the basis for Europe bashing. Liberals are horrible because they think that America might have something to learn from Europe. This is a sign of weakness. So of course the party base would think that being strong (that is: belligerent) is all that matters in a president.
I go back again and again to the 2004 interviews with James Hackett, where his big compliment was that Bush went to war in Afghanistan and he was certain that Gore would have treated the attacks on 9/11 as a police matter. Well, I always thought that was a stupid claim; Gore would have gone to war. But the point was that what was really important was to look tough. The right thing to do was not what would work best, but what would give Dr Hackett that conservative thrill that America was being "decisive" and "strong."
But what's most amazing is that Trump's ideas on how to fight ISIS are no different than anyone else running for the Republican nomination. What's more, we do have the example of George W Bush. He did, at best, a mediocre job in Afghanistan. Then he changed focus and went to war with Iraq. How would Trump be worse than that? At least if he took us to war in Iraq and Syria, I don't see him losing interest and going to war in Argentina because they wouldn't let him build a hotel or something.
The thinking of the Republican base is all messed up. But it is at least coherent. It is the establishment's thinking that is incoherent. They want the same kind of foreign policy that the base wants: unthinking belligerence. But they want the slightest difference in rhetoric — or something. It makes no sense.
So much of the time, I despair about politics and economics. These are not areas where people are honest. I might have strong opinions about which are the best translations of Don Quixote. But they aren't based upon the fact that I have a room full of them that I'm trying to unload. I know, politics has always been a messy business. But democracy was supposed to help in this regard, but I'm afraid that the power elite have become so good at manipulating people that the very idea of democracy in the kind of capitalism that we have may be impossible.
My mind constantly goes back to 2012 and the California Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of GMO foods. Now on this issue, I tend to side with the conservatives. From a consumer standpoint, there is no evidence that there's anything wrong with GMO foods. That's not to say that I don't have problems with them — especially in how they turn farmers into neo-serfs beholden to chemical companies. And I wonder about the environmental impact of GMOs. I don't especially see labeling doing that much. But I also don't see why the people have to be stopped from knowing. So I'm fine with labeling.
And in early 2012, the people of California were fine with GMO labeling. Early polling showed the law passing by a landslide. And then after months and millions of dollars of commercials featuring an old couple whose family farm was just going to be destroyed by the new law, Prop 37 went down to defeat by almost 3 percentage points. I was here during that time. This was not a case of the people being educated about the law. It was a case of an emotional campaign based upon gauzy romantic visions of the family farm and hysterical claims about the destruction of the California economy.
The situation is even more annoying when it comes to economics, which is supposed to be an academic discipline. But it isn't. That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of people doing very good work. But in the public sphere, economics is used to make whatever point someone in power wants to make. This is why a careful think tank like the Tax Policy Center can always been offset with a conservative talking points mill to claim that whatever giveaway to the rich that the Republicans want to do will be fiscally responsible because it bring on 4% or 6% or 149% growth. It doesn't really matter, because these groups just pull their numbers out of the air.
I was thinking about this the other day when I read an excellent article by Dylan Matthews, Economists Tested 7 Welfare Programs to See if They Made People Lazy. They Didn't. This doesn't come as a surprise. There has never been much indication that welfare programs made people lazy. Humans tend to be dissatisfied. If you give them food and a place to sleep, they will look for better food and a nicer place to sleep. And in our society, where making money is considered the only important function of men, it is a question of self-respect.
So why did four economists have to do detailed studies of 7 welfare programs to show that they didn't make people lazy? In fact, the evidence indicates that helping out struggling people makes them less lazy. But you already know that. It is just that the whole "welfare makes people lazy" claim is a bit of "common sense" manufactured by the laziest people on earth: the rich. Take a man who has no money. He will almost certainly weed your whole back yard for forty bucks. Ask Donald Trump to do it. It isn't just that he's busy. He lives in a society that has lied to him — telling him that his time and effort is worth more money.
Anyone will get off the couch and work if you pay them enough money. But we've been sold a bill of goods. The poor are lazy, even though they will work for almost nothing. The rich are productive because they must be paid a huge amount of money to get off the bar stool at the Encore Wynn in Las Vegas.
So I find myself down south staying with my sister for the Thanksgiving holiday, many days of writing ahead. Still, since I will be driving all Sunday, I realized that I hadn't written Sunday's posts when I got here. And it's kind of hard to get work done here. It's a little better now. But still, I was panicking. So as I think I mentioned, I decided to do a week of Elvis Costello. I don't just have to get Sunday done; I also have to do Monday, because I'm sure I'm going to be a mess all Sunday night and probably all of Monday as well.
Costello does a great cover of the Rodgers and Hart classic "My Funny Valentine." But I really don't remember when I first heard it. I thought it had been on Get Happy!! But it wasn't. According to the Elvis Costello Wiki, it was actually on, Taking Liberties — which until now I didn't know was a compilation album. Regardless, the two albums came out at the same time, so I'm not totally insane.
Anyway, here he is performing the song live. It's a great combination: three of my favorite songwriters working together (although not as writers — both Rodgers and Hart were dead by then anyway). After our week of Thanksgiving music, this should be pleasant.
[Under normal circumstances, I would write about the Whitman massacre. It provides a good opportunity to discuss violence that I disagree with, but at a distance to allow an honest discussion of the causes. Regardless, I really don't like the whole missionary business. You know, if it were all about helping the poor and hoping by the example of your good works that you would convince them that your ways were the best, great. But that isn't the way it works. And that certainly wasn't the way it worked with the Whitmans. But I don't have the time, so I'm going to reprint last year's anniversary post, because it is about a very great man. -FM]
On this day in 1915, the great jazz composer and arranger Billy Strayhorn was born. He is best remembered for his work with Duke Ellington. Of course, he largely isn't remembered at all. Even people who don't like jazz at all know who Ellington was. But Strayhorn worked in the shadows, and he seemed to have liked it that way.
He was a phenomenon at an early age. While still in high school, he wrote a musical. He also formed his own trio that played on local radio every day. And he wrote a number of great songs, including "Lush Life." Here he is in 1964, performing it live:
Strayhorn wanted to be a classical composer, but he had the wrong skin color. His introduction to Art Tatum -- a classical composer in his own way -- pushed Strayhorn into jazz. And at the age of 23, he met and began collaborating with Duke Ellington. It is hard to say where one starts and the other ends. Ellington said, "Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine." But being the established great man, Ellington took credit for much of Strayhorn's work. Generally speaking, if you see a tune composed by Strayhorn and Ellington, it is Strayhorn's. And Strayhorn is probably even more important as an arranger in creating what we now think of as the Duke Ellington sound.
That's not to say that Ellington took advantage of the younger man. They had a symbiotic relationship. It is doubtful that Strayhorn would have accomplished so much without the protection and encouragement of Ellington. And Strayhorn got sole writing credit for the most famous song of the Duke Ellington orchestra, "Take the 'A' Train." Here he is performing the song on piano with the orchestra. At the end, Ellington lists some of Strayhorn's other compositions.
Sadly, in 1964 -- at the same time he recorded "Lush Life" above, he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which seemed to ended his career. He died three years later.
Happy birthday Billy Strayhorn!
Morning Consult put out a very interesting bit of polling data, and found, Bernie Sanders Is the Most Popular Senator in America. They did polling of the people in all the states to come up with this. It's a massive poll. Martin Longman noted that there are some real problems in the numbers for Republicans, "The most troubling result for the Republicans is that several of their Senators who are up for reelection next year are near the bottom in the approval ratings." These include Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Mark Kirk of Illinois, and Rob Portman of Ohio. And rightly so!
You might consider Ohio a swing state, but I think it is now fundamentally blue. And Wisconsin and Illinois are clearly blue states. Why do they have Republican Senators anyway? The same goes for Colorado, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania. It goes the other way too, of course. The following red states have one Democratic Senator: Indiana, Missouri (fluke), Montana, North Dakota, West Virginia. But even if you throw out Ohio, that's five red states that have a Democratic Senator and five blue states that have a Republican Senator. Seems about right. But the misrepresented red states account for only 16 million people whereas the misrepresented blue states account for 38 million. That's 134% more!
The same thing is going on when you look at the "pure" states. This is where a blue state like California has two Democratic Senators or a red state like Texas has two Republican Senators. But looking at all those states, the numbers are still disturbing. There are 20 pure red states and only 15 pure blue states. What's more, 103 million people are in these 20 red states whereas 116 million people are in these 15 blue states. If you look at all the data together, you see that blue states represent 154 million people and the red states represent 120 million.
So the blue states represent more than 56% of the nation. Yet they get only 46% of the representation in the Senate. Now in the old days, that wouldn't have been such a bad thing. If a blue state sent a Republican Senator to Washington, she would be a moderate. But that's just not true anymore. Ron Johnson is representing Wisconsin! At the same time, the Democrats representing red states are moderate — because the Democrats are still a regular political party and not a revolutionary power.
A lot of this is just the whining of a partisan whose party is losing. But there are also two important issues. The first is that we live in an oligarchy. The power elite have gotten great not just at manipulating voters, but making voting difficult — both directly (eg, not funding local polling places, voter ID laws) and indirectly (making poor people have to work too much). When was the last time you heard a Republican say (as Ronald Reagan did) that they wanted as many people to vote as possible? The truth is that the Republican Party has become very comfortable with the notion that their best chance of winning an election is to have as few voters as possible.
The other issue is that we have a terrible system of representation. It was perhaps the best that we could hope for two and a quart centuries ago. But it isn't the best we could have now. And that's not even to mention gerrymandering and the ridiculous Senate compromise where a conservative in Wyoming has roughly 66 times as many votes as a liberal does here in California. None of this is moral. But none of it will change, because it is great for the power elite. They know that if the Republicans are in control, they will money thrown at the rich. And if the Democrats are in control, they will throw slightly less money at the rich. (They will still end up doing better under the Democrats, because the economy will do better, because Democrats are not incompetent like Republicans are.)
This isn't just a question of voting. It is a question of organizing. It is a question of all of us talking to other people and allowing them to see that we've lost our democracy and that we are going to have to fight to take it back. It's not just going to be a difficult fight — it's going to be a really long fight.
The Washington Post reported, White Americans Long for the 1950s, When They Didn't Face So Much Discrimination. It's a cheeky headline, but it is absolutely accurate based upon a recent poll done by the Public Religion Research Institute. Erik Loomis has the right reaction, Oh White People. It turns out that 43% of American whites think that discrimination against them is as bad as it is against minority groups. And 53% think things have gotten worse since the 1950s.
In one way, I think this is all meaningless. In any given poll, there are always 30% of Americans who believe the most amazing things. But the poll also asked if discrimination against whites had gotten as bad as it is for minority groups. That's a leading question. Why not just ask, "Is discrimination against whites as bad as it is against African Americans." I'll bet that number would fall down to the established 30% crazy figure. As for the things being worse than they were in the 1950s, well, that's meaningless. What 1950s are we talking about? In Loomis' article, he uses a picture of the Cleaver family from Leave It to Beaver. It started in late 1957 and ran through 1963. I understand that this is what people think "the 50s" were, but they are wrong. The 1950s was really Joseph McCarthy, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and Emmett Till.
But Loomis nails what is really going on. It's the economic insecurity of the white middle class. You know, we talk a lot about the fact that wages have been flat for working people for the last 40 years. But you know, that isn't that big a deal to people. I think what matters most to them is the insecurity. The big thing conservatives love to talk about is how people should be rewarded for taking risks. But American workers have the worst of both worlds: they have seen the risk of unemployment skyrocket and have been given nothing to compensate for it.
It isn't at all surprising in this environment that the white working class would feel that it is being discriminated against. It is! Just not in the way that black and Latino and LGBT people are. There is a class war that is going on in this nation. It got really bad about 40 years ago. But we have a media infrastructure that is totally in the can for the power elite. We live in a nation where the only think that is considered real class warfare is talking about class warfare. Unions can be destroyed. Tort "reform" can take away individual rights. Bankruptcy protection can be limited for individuals even as it is expanded for corporations. And none of this is class warfare. That's just natural or something that Jesus said in Matthew 5. But talk about income inequality and listen to the pundits scream in unison, "Class warfare!"
I was thinking today about one of the Democratic debates where Bernie Sanders said that he wasn't talking about raising taxes back up to 91% where they were under Eisenhower. And I'm almost certain that the woman who was questioning him said, "I would hope not." Can you imagine the firestorm of media coverage that would have erupted if the opposite had been said to a Republican. If Ted Cruz said, "I'm not talking about reducing taxes to 15%," and a reported said, "I would hope not"?
We live in a nation controlled by the power elite. And the poor and working class feel that there is nothing they can do. So they lash out. They kid themselves into thinking that they have it as bad as blacks do. I've actually heard people claim that they are worse off knowing English in California than they would be if they only knew Spanish. These are irrational beliefs. But they are very, very understandable.
Okay, let's end this week with some nice Thanksgiving-ish songs. I was going to just do the Mary Chapin Carpenter song "Thanksgiving Song." It really isn't bad. I wish there were more songs like it. You know what the real problem is: Elvis never released a Thanksgiving album. And because of that, I definitely won't be doing this next year.
Starting tomorrow, I think I'm going to do a week of Elvis Costello. Certainly a week of California punk would better get rid of the sticky sweetness of this last week. But Costello is really easy for me — especially if I stick to the first 15 albums or so, which should be pretty easy given I only need six songs and a concert.
Anyway, here is a short set that Mary Chapin Carpenter did for All Things Considered for their 2012 Thanksgiving broadcast. We had one major thing to be thankful for that day: Mitt Romney wasn't going to be president.
On this day last year, the Kano bombing took place. It was another atrocity committed by Boko Haram. Roughly 120 people were killed and over 250 wounded. It was carried out at a mosque while Friday prayers were going on. Three bombs were set off — one on the road near by and two in the courtyard of the mosque. As the worshippers fled, they were gunned down. Allegedly, angry survivors caught and killed four of the gunmen.
That's roughly as big an attack as the recent Paris attacks. But again: wrong kind of victims in the wrong place. Maybe we should make a bigger deal out of Paris. After all, what happened in Paris is the exception. Usually, it is overwhelmingly Muslims who are killed in these attacks. Yet here in America, we so casually blame "the Muslims." You know, during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, people weren't running around saying we couldn't allow Catholics to immigrate to the United States.
In Hamlet, the title character has the perfect opportunity to kill Claudius. But Claudius is praying, and Hamlet does not want to send him straight to heaven. What does it say of Boko Haram that they kill people while worshiping? I think it says that religion really has nothing to do with their actions. If they believed in their god, they wouldn't attack people while praying. They are just homicidal thugs who lust for power. I'm not saying they can't find justification in their holy books. I'm just saying that it doesn't matter. They could find justification on a postage stamp.
Apparently, Donald Trump is now going around saying, "I watched in Jersey City, NJ, where thousands and thousands of [Arab] people were cheering" — in regard to the 9/11 attacks. (Ben Carson has said the same thing.) I'm beginning to wonder if the guy is just testing the nation. At what point will we say, "No! This is not acceptable!" I really question whether there is a bottom — at least when it comes to the Republican primary voters. There is just an hollow anger at the core of American conservatism that can't be sated. As for Trump, I don't think we can say whether he believes this stuff or not. He's a narcissist and saying it gets him attention; that's as deep as it goes.
PolitiFact looked into it and rated the claim "pants on fire." There is no evidence of Muslims celebrating 9/11 anywhere in America. But the weird thing is that there is evidence of Israelis celebrating the attack. Five of them were arrested and interrogated for a couple of months, before being deported back to Israel. It looks like they were part of an Israeli intelligence operation. You can imagine what many people have made of that. One of the many 9/11 conspiracy theories claims that Israel knew about (and maybe even took part in) the attack. That seems about as credible as most 9/11 conspiracy theories.
But there is something that seems really interesting to me. When one of the men, Sivan Kurzberg, was questioned by the police, he said, "We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem." I think he was telling the truth at that point. And I think that he and his comrades were celebrating the attack. I think they saw it the same way that the British saw the attack on Pearl Harbor: a great thing for their political interests.
It's interesting, because I was listening to an interview earlier today by Max Blumenthal about his new book, The 51 Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza. I'm not totally in Blumenthal's camp. I do still see a need for a safe haven for the Jews. Just the same, I am incredibly skeptical of Zionism at this point. I really do question whether it isn't necessarily racist and therefore violent. And I think the United States' absolute commitment to Israel is totally inappropriate. Not only is it bad to have this increasingly fascistic state tell us what to do, in the long run, I think this is all very bad for Zionism itself. And for Jews the world over.
So right now, I'm probably too open to the idea that Israeli intelligence officers would be happy that we got bombed. That's not to say that they were happy to see Americans killed. But people have lots of ways of justifying these things: you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet and all that. One thing is for sure: if these five Israelis had been Iranians or Iraqis, they wouldn't have been released back to their home countries — they'd be half insane for a decade and a half of torture at Guantanamo Bay.
People can be your friends and still not want what is in your best interests. I increasingly think that of Israel. I don't doubt that they are our friends. Just the same, they seem more like that friend who is always making trouble and getting you involved in it. It turns out that Benjamin Netanyahu — the man who has done more to harm the US relationship with Israel than any other man — is actually a centrist in Israel. That should give you an idea of just how bad things have gotten in Israel. I'm beginning to believe that the only way to save the Jews is to destroy Zionism. But I'm not quite there.
Meanwhile, Donald Trump is telling people that thousands of American Muslims were dancing in celebration of 9/11. And if I had to guess the result, it would be that his poll numbers will go up.
I was recently listening to a lecture by David Cay Johnston, How Government Creates Inequality. It was brilliant as usual. Imagine if we had another hundred or thousand journalists like him! But anyway, he mentioned that when he got started working the 1960s and 1970s, people like him had no trouble finding work. But now college graduates really do have to worry. And in the world that Johnston was talking about, it wasn't just college graduates who were at such an advantage. My father had no education to speak of. He was certainly smart and hard working, but at that time he was given a chance. What chance would he be given today? Stocking shelves at Walmart?
I was thinking about this with regard to some work I did a while back for my main client. She had sent me an article written by a young writer of hers. She said she didn't like it and couldn't say why. I read it and told her that there were many problems with it and that there were two options: I could fix it or mark it up for the writer. I suggested the second idea because I felt that the writer had potential. She agreed, and so I wrote about twice as much in notes as the writer wrote for his article. She and the owner of the company were thrilled with my notes.
Understand: I could almost be the grandfather of this young writer. And maybe I came off as nasty or like I knew it all or whatever. I thought I had been very nice. What's more, I wrote to the writer as a peer — just a younger and less experienced one. But the writer returned a barely edited version of article — integrating at most one-tenth of my suggestions. And then he quit. What's interesting is that about a month later, I was reading an article, and I told my editor, "This is great! Who wrote it?" And she told me it was the same guy.
The point is not the quitting. I've had to do a whole lot of work on this guy's half finished articles, and I really wish he were still around. For one thing, his politics are very much mine. For another things, he is very talented. I know that if he sticks with it, he will at least become a fine writer — maybe even a great one. If he were around, I could be part of that process. But the point is that this company is willing to pay me to work with writers. The company understands that you don't get exactly the workers that you want or need. You as the company or manager must invest in the workers.
This is sadly not the way things mostly work in the modern world. And that's especially true in the high tech world. It used to aggravate me when I was a programmer and a company would be looking for something really specific. For example, they had to have a Java programmer — a C++ programmer wouldn't do, even though there is no real difference. Or a C++ programmer would have to have MFC experience. These are indications of companies that don't want to invest anything at all in their workers. An experienced C++ programmer could be up to speed with MFC within a week. Transitioning from C++ to Java probably wouldn't even take that much time. But the way these companies see workers is the same way they see widgets: plug them in and they should work.
That's the sad thing about a college education. The truth is that most jobs don't require a college education. I have spent about half my working life as a programmer, and I've never taken a course on computers or programming. But the thing about forcing people to have college degrees is that it is supposed to make them better workers. But it really doesn't. The specifics of any job will require specialized training. The whole business of college degrees is just a way for the power elite to justify why it is that people don't have jobs. "Oh, well you need a college degree!" And then, the kids get a college degree, and it doesn't matter.
I constantly see stories about how companies can't find the skilled employees that they need. This is what the whole thing about the H1-B visas is about. If an employer finds that it can't find good help, it has two options. It can pay more or it can find inexperienced people and train them. The problem with both of those solutions is that they cost money. What such stories should actually be saying it, "Employer can't find help at the wages it wants to pay." But then it would be only too clear: the employer isn't doing its job. Or the employer wants an unfair advantage by getting trained workers for less than the going rate. Much better to blame workers. In the 1960s and 1970s, when unions were much stronger, workers had an easier time finding work and (relative to comparable countries) they made more. We've given both those things up so that employers can make a lot more money. And as Johnston discusses in the video above: this isn't an accident; it is due to government policy. We live in an oligarchy, folks.