Atheism Is No More Relativist Than Christianity

Phil RobertsonI don’t actually care what Phil Robertson has to say on any subject at all. He is, however, useful in demonstrating that one can be educated and rich and still be ignorant and parochial. Of course, Robertson is fun in that he’s spent his whole life being the most educated guy in a very ignorant crowd. So he’s always got this ostentatious air to him that makes his pronouncements especially nutty. As a result, he is useful as a pedagogical object for teaching basic subjects about Shintoism and the like.

Most recently, Robertson stood before the Vero Beach Prayer Breakfast and engaged in some very creepy fantasies about teaching an atheist father and husband a lesson about the existence of God through the use of rape, murder, and castration. It doesn’t really matter the details. Robertson is an extremely troubled man who is living proof of hell on earth. He’s also an excellent advertisement for atheism. The best advertisement for Christianity is a caring person who is a follower of the religion. Robertson shows that for most people, Christianity is really all about exclusivity and hatred. Other than people already in the tribe, he doesn’t win converts — and he clearly pushes people away.

But his example with the brutal violence perpetrated on an atheist family is based on a common misunderstanding of atheism. To him, atheism is a relativist philosophy. To such simple minds, there cannot be any morality unless it is imposed from without. That’s a curious notion given that atheists don’t act less morally than Christians. But it is deeper than that. Like most Americans, Robertson is a proponent of what I call “Santa Claus Christianity”: he is good because if he isn’t, God will be mean to him; and if he is, God will reward him.

Note how this is quite distinct from what more thoughtful Christians claim the religion is all about. Supposedly, the spirit of Jesus Christ comes into a person and makes them behave morally. This is largely what the earliest Christians believed. It was only later in the 2nd and 3rd centuries that the church developed the idea that we were all sinners and that we were only saved through Jesus. But American Christians have taken this to a whole new low where all they have to do is “believe” in Jesus and all their sins are washed away. Linus’ system for The Great Pumpkin makes more sense — at least The Great Pumpkin judges on the basis of sincerity.

What Christians don’t seem to have a handle on is that God’s laws are not an absolute when the God in question is slippery. The evidence for God is at best weak. And then there is the question that there are literally thousands of gods that people have posited. Different gods want humans to do different things. What is absolute about that? Wouldn’t a good and moral God just be clear? Why all this game playing? Why allow people in the hills of Afghanistan to go their whole lives without ever being exposed to the One True God that is whatever god you worship? Phil Robertson chose the God he was going to believe in. (Shockingly, it was the same God that everyone else in his tiny world believes in!) And then he followed those rules (maybe). Once he made the first choice, the rules were absolute. But first he had to make a choice of religion, which is no different than making a choice of which of God’s laws you are going to follow.

Consider something else. Morality evolves over time. Today, for example, slavery in its strict sense is universally considered wrong. The Bible is just fine on the issue of slavery. If God were really interested in micromanaging our morality, wouldn’t he have either (1) got it right in the first place or (2) occasionally provide updates the way that the Oxford English Dictionary does? Of course, we know why none of this happened: God (at least the micromanaging kind) doesn’t exist. Religion is a human invention, and — most tellingly — a later invention than morality. Morality existed before God — much less before Jesus.

There are sociological reasons why we have the morals we have. In a species that depends upon working together as a group, behaviors that harm the group badly enough are pushed out of the realm of acceptable behavior. This is why we are not a bunch of psychopaths killing everyone we see. But in Phil Robertson’s mind, raping children, murdering people, and castrating men would be “fun” if only God weren’t wagging a finger at us. Except such acts aren’t fun. That isn’t how morality works. I’m an atheist and yet I find each of those acts repugnant. Of course, Christians throughout the ages have gleefully done at least two of those three.

Relativism is not a useful concept when it comes to this debate. All Phil Robertson has done is create a straw man — and an incredibly common one at that. But he isn’t alone. Throughout the conservative blogosphere, people have defended Robertson on the grounds that atheists are relativists. In a sense we are — but only in the sense that Christians are too. But at least atheists are upfront about it. I kind of doubt that Phil Robertson never eats shellfish or never has sex with his wife during her period. And I don’t know of any atheists going around fantasizing about torturing Christians to prove to them that God doesn’t exist. But I guess because the Bible doesn’t say anything against it (In fact, it is kind of in favor of it!), it can’t be wrong.

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Personal Liberation and Political Enslavement

The Age of AcquiescenceThe ubiquity of market thinking has transformed combative political instincts into commercial or personalized ones or both. Environmental despoiling arouses righteous eating; cultural decay inspires charter schools; rebellion against work becomes work as a form of rebellion; old-form anticlericalism morphs into the piety of the secular; the break with convention ends up as the politics of style; the cri de coeur against alienation surrenders to the triumph of the solitary; the marriage of political and cultural radicalism ends in divorce. Like a deadly plague, irony spreads everywhere.

What lends this thinking and behavior such tensile strength is its subterranean connection to the sense of personal liberation. One of the great discoveries of the feminist movement was that “the personal is political.” This undermined axiomatic assumptions about female inferiority and subordination from which patriarchy will never recover.

However, personalizing of the political also carried with it unforeseen consequences as the aperçu migrated into the wider world, carried there by the tidal flows of consumer culture. Nowadays we live in a political universe preoccupied with gossip, rumor, insinuations, and innuendo. Personal transgressions, scandals, outré behavior, and secrets have become the pulp fiction of politics. Our times didn’t invent that. Grover Cleveland was regularly raked over the coals for having an illegitimate child. Warren Harding’s sexual adventures were notorious. This is to cite two of many possible examples. Nonetheless, this kind of inquisitorial and, let’s be frank, voyeuristic pursuit, of venial sins as the way of sizing up political life, has reached heights undreamed of. And this can be entertaining — indeed, it may be intended by the media to be so, as it is eye- and ear-catching. It displays a kinship with the inherent sensationalism of consumer culture more generally. It is also, often, if not always, stupendously trivial or only marginally relevant, but is treated in exactly the opposite way. We have grown accustomed to examine all sorts of personal foibles as if they were political MRIs lighting up the interior of the most sequestered political motivations.

Credit this hyperpersonalizing of political life with keeping interest alive, even if it’s a kind of morbid interest in the fall of the mighty or the wannabe mighty. Otherwise, for many millions of citizens, cynicism (and only cynicism) prevails. The system seems transparently to have become an arena for gaming the system. Cycles of corruption and insiderism repeat with numbing frequency and in a nonpartisan distribution, verging on kleptocracy.

—Steve Fraser
The Age of Acquiescence

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TSA’s Faux Objectivity

TSABack in the 1990s when I used to fly internationally a lot, US customs decided to change its procedures for searching people. (I can’t find information about this; it might have been a pilot program just at SFO.) What they had found was that they didn’t find any more contraband in the luggage of “suspicious” people than they did random people. So why bother? And more important: why risk the obvious problem of unfair stereotyping? People act strangely for a lot of reasons. Even though I’ve never tried to bring anything even slightly dodgy into or out of the country, I’m a nervous wreck going through customs. And this is despite the fact that I’ve never had any problem going through customs.

Last week, Jana Winter and Cora Currier at The Intercept reported, TSA’s Secret Behavior Checklist to Spot Terrorists. It describes the TSA’s controversial SPOT (Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques) program. This is the system of techniques that are supposed to turn an ordinary TSA agent into Dr Cal Lightman — the body language genius in Lie to Me. But just like the “enhanced interrogation techniques” used to extract false information from people in CIA and military custody, SPOT is not based on any science.

I am especially taken with two things on SPOT’s list of suspicious behavior. The first is, “Widely open staring eyes.” The second is, “Gazing down.” Given there are degrees to both of these, this sums up all possible eye related behavior. In other words: if the TSA agent decides that you are suspicious, you will get a point for one of these two. And this is how these things always work. We are all great at rationalizing our decisions. That does not mean that our decisions are based on rational thought. We are not nearly as rational as we think we are.

Of course, that is why these silly lists are created. The people designing this systems do not think they work for their stated purposes. They work as a way to justify what the agents are going to do regardless. You’ve lived a charmed life if you haven’t had this kind of reverse engineered oppression applied to you. The most common form this takes is a police officer pulling over a car. They can always justify it because there are so many ridiculous laws that we are all of us breaking the law all the time.

The Intercept article interviewed a former TSA agent about this:

One former Behavior Detection Officer manager, who asked not to be identified, said that SPOT indicators are used by law enforcement to justify pulling aside anyone officers find suspicious, rather than acting as an actual checklist for specific indicators. “The SPOT sheet was designed in such a way that virtually every passenger will exhibit multiple ‘behaviors’ that can be assigned a SPOT sheet value,” the former manager said.

The signs of deception and fear “are ridiculous,” the source continued. “These are just ‘catch all’ behaviors to justify [Behavior Detection Officer] interaction with a passenger. A license to harass.”

This is all part of a larger issue that I talk about a lot: in the United States, we don’t care so much about solving problems; it is more important to appear as though we are solving problems. The list of 92 suspicious behaviors is a way to make what are just gut reactions on the part of agents appear to be scientific and objective. But what they actually are was summed up well by a different former TSA agent The Intercept interviewed, “The SPOT program is bullshit — complete bullshit.”

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A Tale of Two Regulators

Andrew BowdenA year ago, it seemed that SEC examination chief Andrew Bowden was going to do his job. He had just finished a study of private equity firms and found that at more than half of them, the companies that were purchased were being inappropriately charged fees for things like services that they didn’t receive or similar shenanigans. This is the whole point of private equity: siphon off as much money as possible and then get rid of the company. In this case, the people who get screwed are the investors who put up the money to purchase the firm. If poor people did this kind of thing, they’d be thrown in jail. When rich people do it, they are deified.

So after the study was finished, Bowden gave a big fiery speech where he said:

When we have examined how fees and expenses are handled by advisers to private equity funds, we have identified what we believe are violations of law or material weaknesses in controls over 50 percent of the time.

Time for some prosecutions, right? But since then, the SEC has done what it normally does: nothing. As Matt Taibbi noted last week, “Last May, Bowden, a senior SEC official, described this problem as almost epidemic.” But now:

I reckon, it’s sort of interesting for me for private equity in terms of all we’ve seen, and what we have seen, where we have seen some misconduct and things like that, because I always think like, to my simple mind, that the people in private equity, they’re the greatest, they’re actually adding value to their clients, they’re getting paid really really well, you know, if I was in that position, the one thing I would think to myself as I skipped to work was like just “Let’s not mess it up. You know, this is the greatest thing there, I’m helping people, I’m doing OK myself.”

Ah yes! That’s the kind of person we want policing the private equity people: people who have simple minds and bow down before the greatness that are these masters of the universe who, after all, are just adding value to their clients. Bowden went on to joke about them giving his son a job, but I hardly think that was necessary to know exactly what Bowden (doubtless along with his peers) is all about. Needless to say, the Andrew Bowden of last year was far more in danger of losing his job than the Andrew Bowden of this year.

Two weeks ago, Michael Hiltzik discussed the issue in a broader context, Bankers Are Complaining — Again — About too Much Regulation. He perfectly described what is going on with Bowden and the thousands of bureaucrats like him:

The term “regulatory capture” refers to what happens when regulators swim so close to the companies they regulate that they get snared in those companies’ gravitational fields. What results is tolerant, indulgent regulation, or none at all.

He started with the story of corporate lawyer and pox on the world H Rodgin Cohen who claimed in a recent talk that there was no regulatory capture. He said “the regulatory environment today… the most tension-filled, confrontational, and skeptical of any time in my professional career.” But his professional career only really start in the 1970s and got going in the 1980s. These are the times when the government was turning its back on efforts to control the crooks that people like Cohen get rich representing. What does it really matter how today lines up with his career? Of course, there is little doubt that all he’s really saying is that at this point his privilege is so extreme that even the smallest push-back would seem “tension-filled, confrontational, and skeptical.”

Regardless of what Cohen thinks (or says, anyway), the example of Bowden kind of destroys it. But we have to wonder which Bowden is the one who goes to work each day: the fiery regulator or the private equity pawn? Hiltzik noted something interesting in this regard. Last year’s strong words were a major event and the speech at the conference earlier this month was not. So I’m guessing that Bowden is the obsequious one, not the Cohen skeptic of myth. Plus we have data: since Bowden’s big speech, there haven’t been big indictments. This country has a long way to go to fix its problems. And we haven’t even started.

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Morning Music: Tom Morello

One Man Revolution - The NightwatchmanGiven that it is Cesar Chavez’s birthday, I thought it might be a good time to do a little union music. And I think I’ve found the perfect song: Tom Morello’s “Union Song” off his album, One Man Revolution. It even refers to Chavez (and songwriter Joe Hill, writer of “There Is Power In A Union“).

This performance is in the Los Angeles Chinatown at a protest against Walmart that labor unions put together. Of course, the Walmart opened anyway. It’s important to remember that the United States is not a democracy. Being on the side of workers in the US is being a supporter of the ultimate under dogs. But the struggle continues. ¿Si nos quedemos, juntos vamos a ganar? ¡Si!

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Anniversary Post: Cesar Chavez

[Editor’s Note: Because I am now doing a lot things for the “birthday post” that are not birthdays, I’ve decided to change the name to the “anniversary post.” It’s also the case that I am using a lot of stuff that isn’t celebratory — like Yaoya Oshichi’s Sadistic Murder. If anyone has any ideas for a replacement for “Happy birthday whatever!” that I won’t have to change when marking something awful like Kristallnacht, please let me know. Also: this birthday post is a revision of an earlier post, Happy Cesar Chavez Day! Forgive my laziness. -FM]

Cesar ChavezOn this day in 1927, the great civil rights organizer Cesar Chavez was born. Here is California today, it is Cesar Chavez Day, which is tidy. But just like Martin Luther King Jr, we celebrate the mythic Chavez rather than the man. And that’s just fine. But the man deserves to be remembered. He was a curious fellow. For example, he was a vegan and he seems to have been against the notion of money. Although I don’t agree with him on either issue, I greatly respect the beliefs and I think it speaks well of any man to have principled beliefs that counter the social norms.

His life story is also right out of The Grapes of Wrath, too. His father lost the family farm during the Great Depression. He cleared 80 acres of land in exchange for the deed to the farm. But the deal was broken so the family moved to California and became migrant workers. Chavez quit school after the 7th grade to work in the fields. Other than two years in the Navy, he was a farm worker for ten years before getting into organizing. The rest, as they say, is literally history.

Time Magazine Cover: Cesar ChavezSome people find it ironic that Chavez and Dolores Huerta and their organization were very much for restricting immigration. But this is to misunderstand what the United Farm Workers (UFW) was doing. Unions are not like churches, going around trying to make the world a better place. Unions exist to represent their workers and balance the power of management. Then as today, the business community tacitly encourages illegal immigration. They want an over-supply of labor so they can pay as little as possible. Immigrants (Especially undocumented!) are in effect scabs that undermine the bargaining power of unions.

The following video is remarkable. Chavez is talking about how boycotts work. But at the beginning, he says an amazingly insightful thing: that voting doesn’t help the poor. That’s interesting because recent political science research finds that the opinions of the poor (and to a large extent the middle class too) simply have no effect on how politicians legislate. Just the same, Chavez was big on getting the poor to vote. He’s just making a point that if you want to make change happen, the best way is to make the rich suffer by depriving them of money. That is the most direct way to make positive change.

I’m very pleased that today in Cesar Chavez Day in California. I wish it were a national holiday. We have a holiday for one of our richest presidents who kept slaves. We have a holiday celebrating our independence that kept slavery in existence. We have a holiday celebrating how native people kept early settlers from starving so those settlers could go on to wage a genocide against the native people. Even though Martin Luther King Jr was deeply concerned about workers’ rights, that’s not why we celebrate him. May Day is long gone and most Americans don’t seem to know the difference between Labor Day and Memorial Day. We could use a holiday that celebrates the workers’ struggle in an unambiguous way. Cesar Chavez Day should be a bigger deal. And in another decade, it probably will be.

Happy birthday Cesar Chavez!

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Three Annoying Articles

Bathroom FireBecause I was bored, I spent far too much time over at FARK. As a result, I found three unrelated news items that annoyed me for different reasons. But it just may be my mood. Also: I’m losing my grip on reality. I’m writing this Friday evening, but I know it won’t be published until Monday evening. (That’s right, I’m that far ahead for no particular reason except that business was slow this last week.) Thus, I want to blame this on a bad Monday, but that wouldn’t be accurate. And last (This?) Friday wasn’t any worse than usual.

The first story comes to us from Foodbeast (which has a badly designed website), Why McDonald’s Built a Drive-Thru Exclusively for Cyclists to Bike Through. You would be mistaken if you thought that the article would answer the question of why McDonald’s built a drive-thru exclusively for cyclists to bike through. That is, you would be mistaken, unless you thought that the reason was that it is part of McDonald’s #ImLovinIt24 campaign where “24 cities around the world have been doing random McDonald’s things…” But this is not even what annoys me the most.

This McDonald’s, which is in Copenhagen, has specially designed “bike-friendly boxes” with “McBike” printed on them designed to hang from the handlebars. Have these people never ridden a bike? It is a spectacularly bad idea. First, it will slip and then most likely fall. If it doesn’t, it will swing, hit another part of the bike, slip, and then most likely fall. Or it will rain, the cardboard will tear, and it will definitely fall. Trust me: something will not work. I know.

Baby 12My real question is whether this “bike-thru” will allow walkers. When I was a kid without a car, the fast food places would not serve us on foot. They claimed that it had something to do with their insurance. I’ve never been to Copenhagen, but if it is anything like Davis, then walkers have as much to worry about from bikes as they do from cars. The whole thing makes me wonder why they didn’t just make a “walk-thru.” The bicyclists could still use it. The reason for having a drive-thru is because most drivers are lazy bastards who don’t want to get out of the car. That isn’t an issue on a bike. You are already outside, which you will notice when your “McBike” container splatters all over the ground.

The second story comes to us from Metro (another badly designed website), Baby Born With 12 on His Forehead, What Could It Mean? It’s a UK publication, but God knows where the little brat was born. The intentionally cheeky article mentioned that the parents were from South Africa, but maybe the kid was born in the UK. Who cares, right? I mean the kid has a birthmark in the shape of a “12” on its forehead. Having been told it is a “12,” I see it very clearly. But if I hadn’t been told, I’m sure I would have seen it as a smudge. Or a parrot landing on a tree. Whatever. It’s meaning, however, is clear: slow news day at Metro.

Cheeseburger Ball GagThe third story comes to us from sort of an actual newspaper, The Daily Telegraph. But you wouldn’t know it from this important article, Revealed: the Most Dangerous Time To Be in Your Home. I swear I am not making this up: the most dangerous time to be at home is Saturday at 6:30 pm because that’s when a lot of people are home. Not only that, but people spend that time cooking. Another revelation in the article is that people often hurt themselves while cooking. Apparently, fires are much more common in the kitchen than the bathroom. Also: don’t fix appliances when they are still plugged in. And finally: jumping in front of speeding trains can result in injury or even death.

FARK is a very useful website, but on slow days, it can be horrible. But it does remind me just how many useless websites exist that get lots and lots of traffic. I mean, Foodbeast is quite popular and it features articles like, This Team Is Introducing Mashed Potato Chicken and Waffle Cones, The Cheeseburger Ball Gag Is a Thing That Exists, Here’s What We Know About It, and This Bloody Mary Has an Entire Pizza Slice As a Garnish. Yeah, we’re doomed.

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Love Is Blind and Stupid

Aunt Julia and the ScriptwriterBecause the daughter of his brother Robert was as perfect a specimen of young womanhood as Richard was of young manhood: one of those beauties who do honor to the species and who make figures of speech comparing teeth to pearls, eyes to stars, hair to flax, and complexions to peaches and cream sound far too pedestrian. Slender, with dark hair and very white skin, her every movement graceful, even her manner of breathing, she had a tiny face with classic lineaments, and features that appeared to have been designed by an Oriental miniaturist. A year younger than Richard, she had just finished secondary school; her one defect was timidity — so excessive that the organizers of the Miss Peru contest, to their despair, had been unable to persuade her to enter — and everyone, including Dr Quinteros, was at a loss to explain why she was getting married so soon, and above all why she was marrying Red Antúnez. There was no denying that young Antúnez had certain things going for him — his good heart and his good nature, a degree in business administration from the University of Chicago, the fertilizer company he would one day inherit, sereral cups he’d won bicycle racing — but among the innumerable boys of Miraflores and San Isidro who’d courted Elianita and who would have committed murder or robbed a bank to marry her, Red was beyond a doubt the least attractive and (Dr Quinteros was ashamed of allowing himself to harbor such an opinion regarding someone who within a few hours would become his nephew by marriage) the dullest and most dim-witted.

—Mario Vargas Llosa
Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter

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Minimum Wage and the New Borderlands Books

Borderlands BooksBack on the first of February, Alan Beatts announced that he was closing up his store, Borderlands Books. The proximate cause was the recent minimum wage increase in San Francisco. He didn’t see how the business could survive. It’s not hard to understand. Unlike most businesses, book stores can’t raise prices — people will just go to Amazon. And the minimum wage isn’t even the major issue. Borderlands is located in the Mission district, which has been seeing rents go up steadily for the last two decades. It was a sad announcement, but it actually didn’t have much to do with the minimum wage. And indeed, Beatts is a supporter of the new minimum wage.

But when the announcements was made, the conservative world went crazy. The Washington Free Beacon incorrectly reported, San Francisco Bookstore Closing Due to Minimum Wage Increase. No mention was made of the specialized nature of the store — it is a science fiction bookstore — or the macroeconomic forces that are hurting the store. But why would the article mention these things? Conservatives know that the minimum wage always destroys jobs and is just terrible. A bookstore was closing and that was all the “proof” they needed. What to be done? Every conservatives knows that liberal policy always fails.

Apparently, there was something to be done. Even in Beatts’ announcement, he mentioned that they were looking at other alternatives. They were, for example, looking for some way to lower the cost of their rent, which went up 100% in 2000 alone. (That was the result of the dot-com bubble. But of course, after the bubble burst, landlords didn’t lower their rents.) But on 19 February, Beatts announced, An Opportunity for Borderlands to Stay Open. Customers had proposed a sponsorship program. So it came down to this, “Each sponsorship will cost $100 for the year and will need to be renewed every year. If we get 300 sponsors before March 31st, we will stay open for the remainder of 2015.”

How did it go? On 19 March, Beatts posted, Our Sponsors for 2015. The required 300 sponsors was met within 48 hours. As of the time of the post, Borderlands Books had 753 sponsors. It’s an impressive outpouring of support. But it isn’t too surprising. Groups like the science fiction community tend to be self-supporting. This kind of thing is much more likely to happen with a specialty store than with a general one.

It’s important to note that this alone doesn’t counter the conservatives’ criticism. But now that the bookstore is safe, I can say what was always clear: Borderlands Books did not have a viable business model. Even Beatts himself only made $28,000 last year — that’s $14 per hour, assuming he worked full time (and he probably worked more than that). The bookstore clearly was not taking in as much money as it was delivering to the community. For example, the bookstore does a lot of events and provides a place to hang out. The immediate support for the sponsorship program shows that the bookstore was worth more to the community than it had been charging. If the store hadn’t survived in this way, it could have found other ways to monetize its services. In other words: Borderlands Books was never going out of business because of the minimum wage increase.

Under normal circumstances, conservatives would not morn the loss of something like Borderlands Books. It would have just been another bookstore destroyed by more efficient larger bookstores. Creative destruction, am I right?! The fact is that with or without government, workers must earn a living wage. When Walmart employees must depend upon government programs, it is the owners of Walmart and not the workers who are getting welfare from the government. And that applies to the old Borderlands Books to a lesser extent. But now the company is in a better situation — providing fairer compensation for workers and owner.

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Obamacare Helped Me and Many Cathy McMorris Rodgers Followers

We Heart ObamacareIn 2008, I stumbled into a hospital emergency very close to death. I don’t much remember the first month I was there and in total, I spent seven months before they finally let me go. Other than some minor but permanent damage to my heart, I appear to be more healthy than I have ever been. I’m also in debt to the tune of about a quarter million dollars — money I will never be able to pay back. For the previous year, my employer had been promising healthcare to the entire staff. It never came. In fact, I checked with an employee a year later and the firm was still not providing healthcare, but still promising to do so.

Today, thanks to Obamacare, I have insurance. I have a serious preexisting condition. It is doubtful that anyone would have sold me insurance in the old system. So things are far better for me now. Of course, I haven’t had cause to use my insurance. But having it provides me with an amazing amount of peace of mind. And I do plan to use it soon. I could use a check-up.

But the Republicans continue to try to destroy Obamacare. It doesn’t matter how many people like me are better off, they hate the law. I don’t think that there is a better example of villainy in politics. Just the same, I’m pretty sure these politicians actually believe that Obamacare is the spawn of Satan. The modern Republican Party comes out of that John Birch Society tradition that just knows that this is communism and that therefore it can’t work. Damn the facts; they have ideological certainty!

A good example of this comes via Matt Yglesias last week, A House GOP Leader Asked for Obamacare Horror Stories. Instead, She Got Love Letters. The GOP leader was Representative and late model Stepford wife Cathy McMorris Rodgers. On Facebook, she wrote, “This week marks the 5th anniversary of #Obamacare being signed into law. Whether it’s turned your tax filing into a nightmare, you’re facing skyrocketing premiums, or your employer has reduced your work hours, I want to hear about it.” Not even any faux objectivity. What happened next was entirely predictable. As Yglesias noted, “As many brands have discovered, opening yourself up to this kind of dialogue is basically an open invitation to get trolled.”

But mostly she didn’t get trolled. She just got a huge number of responses from people like me who like Obamacare. But there was also stuff like this from Matthew Root:

Employee insurance premiums for my small business were up only 6% this year. That is the smallest increase in the 16 years I have been in business. The ACA has been very good to my employees and has contained costs for my business. Please stop trying to take people’s insurance away by repealing the ACA…

That’s one thing that is really interesting about Obamacare: it is good for business. One of the big problems that manufacturers have is that many of the companies they compete against don’t have to provide their employees with healthcare because their governments do it. Obamacare is about the most free market solution to the problem imaginable. But because it raised taxes on the rich, the Republicans just can’t abide it. That and the fact that a Democrat with cooties got it passed.

I think we should stop thinking of the Republican Party as being pro-business. It really isn’t. It is pro-rich. It is interested in making sure that the lives of the rich are as good as possible. And that’s fine. But people shouldn’t vote for the Republican Party because they think it will help business and the economy. All indications are that it just pushes money from the poor to the rich and this has the ultimate effect of weakening the economy. Certainly destroying Social Security, Medicare, and Obamacare would devastate the economy — in addition to causing great direct harm to the non-rich. But if that is what the American people want to vote for, fine. Let’s just make sure that they understand that that is what they are voting for when they vote Republican.

In the mean time, millions more people have health insurance than they did before. I’m one of them. But if you want more evidence, Cathy McMorris Rodgers set up this great webpage where people tell their own stories…

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Morning Music: Gang of Four

Entertainment! - Gang of FourOne of my favorite albums ever is Gang of Four’s first album, Entertainment! It holds up as well today as it ever did. Musically, it is hard to beat the driving rhythms of that tight-knit trio. You don’t need anything more than guitar, bass, and drums. And as I’ve discussed, the synthesizer destroyed a lot of music from that period, so in a sense, Gang of Four was lucky.

The other side of Gang of Four was the explicitly Marxist lyrics of Jon King. But more than that, there is an explicit rejection of common pop music tropes, such as the long song. But the main thing about the band was that they really didn’t sound like anything I had ever heard. Since then, of course, there is Red Hot Chili Peppers, which has always sounded to me like a pretty direct ripoff of the band. (Not that they aren’t great.)

Gang of Four is still performing. Kind of. There is only one remaining member — the amazing guitarist, Andy Gill. The music is good (I just listened to their/his latest album). But it isn’t like the old stuff. For one thing, it isn’t political like it used to be. I think if Jon King isn’t in the band, you really can’t call it Gang of Four.

Here is the band at the time performing “To Hell With Poverty” off that first album:

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Birthday Post: Jeopardy!

Jeopardy!The game show Jeopardy! is 51 years old today. But it hasn’t been on all that time. It started on NBC and ran from 1964 through 1979, with a two year absence from 1976 through 1978. During that period, it was hosted by Art Fleming. Then, after four years off the air, it was brought back in syndication with the new host Alex Trebek. It was created by Merv Griffin, who created pretty every “normal” game show you can think of. (All right, that’s a vast exaggeration.)

When I was a kid, I loved game shows. But I hated Jeopardy! There are good reasons for that. Now I kind of like it because I’m good at it. But it is just a quiz show. Providing the questions for the answers is very slightly clever. But it is designed this way simply to hide the fact that it is a boring quiz show. Eight year old Frank was no fool.

I’ve written three articles about the show. The first was simply, Jeopardy! In it, I explained why I would never try out for the show. Short answer: the up side is not compensation enough for the potential that I would humiliate myself. The second article was, “Power Players” on Jeopardy! Out of Touch. I was shocked that media figures were so ignorant and I commented on how the questions were easier for these elites than they are for normal contestants. And the last one was my finally getting around to answering a question that has been on my mind for years, Maximum Possible Win on Jeopardy! How much money could you walk away with on a single episode if you got every question right and maximized the “daily doubles”? $566,400. But the most anyone has ever won on a single episode is only $77,000. Only ten people have ever made more than $50,000.

Happy birthday Jeopardy!

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