Why Republicans Turned Against Conservative Economic Policy

Bruce BartlettProbably my favorite conservative, Bruce Bartlett wrote a very interesting article over at The Financial Times, Is the Fed Being Goaded Into Raising Rates Too Soon? As I've talked about a fair amount here, there is no economic reason for the Federal Reserve to even be discussing raising interest rates. And it seems so bizarre that I once thought I had missed something, so I asked Dean Baker, and he backed me up. There really isn't anything behind it. So the question that Bartlett has raised is why.

He isn't the first. Paul Krugman spent about a month recently obsessing over the question. And his conclusion was that the Fed is understandably closely tied to the banking community — in fact, 5 of its 12 members are appointed from the banks. And bankers make less money when interest rates are low. So the Fed is pushed by these "reasonable" and "objective" people who think that interest rates should go up. There is much to this theory, and I'm sure it is going on to one extent or another.

Bartlett offers the other side of this, which is basically that the Republican Party has gone insane. He noted three of the more thoughtful Republicans — John Taylor, Martin Feldstein, and Alan Greenspan — all argued that the Federal Reserve was going to cause inflation to go up in 2009. This, of course, goes against what conservatives of the Milton Friedman variety have always said. The liberals wanted fiscal stimulus (because, let's fact it, it is the most direct way to address recessions) and conservatives wanted monetary stimulus. But in 2009, suddenly that was all wrong. The right thing to do was what we did during the Great Depression: nothing. Or even better: cut both government spending and the the flow of cash.

"Had the Fed followed their advice earlier, the economy would undoubtedly be in worse shape — good for Republican electoral prospects, but bad for everyone else." —Bruce Bartlett

Apparently, the Republican Party itself has gotten so insane that even Ben Bernanke has decided that he is no longer a Republican. And really: how could any scientist who wants to be taken seriously continue to associate with the modern Republican Party. That's especially true of economists, who show themselves to be complete hacks like Greg Mankiw who is for Keynesian stimulus as long as a Republican is in the White House. Of course, much of the blame has to be laid on the economics profession itself. Mankiw should have been shunned from the profession. But let's face it, selling out is one of the big perks of becoming a successful economist.

Bartlett never got around to discussing just why the Republicans turned into such idiots on this issue. It's certainly not, as Bernanke claims, that "the crisis had helped to radicalize large parts of the Republican Party." They weren't radicalized until a Democrat became president. Bartlett understands this, he finished his article with an allusion to what is really going on, "Had the Fed followed their advice earlier, the economy would undoubtedly be in worse shape — good for Republican electoral prospects, but bad for everyone else." And that's what is all about. The Republicans are traitors. They don't care about the country in the least. This is why we constantly have to worry about them crashing the economy: they care more about their political aspirations than they care about the good of the country. They are reactionaries who think that it may be necessary to destroy the country in order to save it.

There is no theory that underlies what they are doing. This is just power for power's sake. It's tempting to think that they will be reasonable once they get into power. But I think all the rational Republicans have been chased away. The inmates really are running the asylum. And we could end up with a Republican president who thinks that we don't have to worry about breaching the debt ceiling because he can just cut spending. This is the final act of the GOP — and maybe the country.


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Morning Music: Beethoven

BeethovenLook at that Joseph Karl Stieler portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven. If that was all you had to go on, you would say that Beethoven was a Romantic. Indeed, he was a revolutionary force in the Classical period, and effectively the beginning of the the Romantic period. In fact, I've long had this idea that Beethoven was the cause of so much that I don't like of that period. Because it is relatively easy to be overwrought like Beethoven but without much of his talent. And the Romantic period is indeed filled with with that kind of work.

But I don't want to look at his later work, because that, it seems to me, is clearly Romantic period stuff. But even at the beginning of his career, he was making important changes. In fact, I'm presenting his Symphony No 1 — which he probably started when he was 25, but wasn't first performed until he was 30. There are a couple of things to note here. First, the harmony is more complicated. In fact, I think Beethoven liked messing with the listener's expectations. You can especially here this in the beginning of this piece. Also of interest is the expanded use of dynamics — it gets louder and software than Mozart generally did. And then there is much more use of the wind instruments, which adds a lot of color — something that becomes more clear as time goes on.

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Anniversary Post: Claudius' Poisoning

ClaudiusOn this day in 54 CE, Emperor Claudius was murdered. I regret to inform you that he was not as charming as Derek Jacobi in I, Claudius. But the series is mostly right. He did have some handicaps that might have been the result of cerebral palsy. His family was incredibly cruel to him as a result. I mean, they were Romans, after all! But this was his secret weapon. It is because of his ailments that he was kept to the side of things and managed to not get murdered. He was also apparently smart and a very good historian.

He was also something of a drunk and a big fan of gladiatorial "games." And he had a hot temper. I suppose all of this could be smoothed away in a couple of ways. First, none of this makes him particularly different from the rest of his family. And the cruelty that he experienced would tend to have negative effects on a person. He was, regardless, a decent emperor — by the standards of the job and the time.

He was almost certainly poisoned by his last wife, Agrippina. Of course, she wouldn't have done it — just called for it to be done. She really wanted to get her son (from another marriage) Nero to become emperor. And it was looking like Claudius might put a stop to that, given that he hated her by the end. Of course, Claudius didn't do badly. He was 63 years old at his death. Compare that to Caligula, who came before: stabbed to death at 28. Or Nero, who came after: committed suicide (The first Roman Emperor to do so!) at the age of 30.

See also: All Told a Nice Emperor Claudius.

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The Good and Bad of Translating Shakespeare

The Winter's TaleAccording to PM Carpenter, The Literary Apocalypse Has Arrived. One of the great pleasures of reading him is experiencing his references — both to literature and history. But he's also something of a curmudgeon. In this case, he is upset at the news that the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) has announced that "it will commission 36 playwrights to translate all of Shakespeare's plays into modern English." Oh, the horror!

Let's be clear what's happening here. Even among the vast majority of people who like Shakespeare, appreciation is pretty thin. In fact, at this point in time, it is impossible for someone to just see one of his plays performed and appreciate much more than the basic story line. True: good productions can hammer home the meaning. But appreciation of the words — the puns and meaning — is missing. People don't get it.

What's more: the words that Shakespeare wrote didn't sound at all the way they did in the early 17th century. If Shakespeare were performed today the way he was performed then, modern audiences wouldn't even be able to make out words. It would be like listening to someone tell a story in Gaelic. Yet there is no outrage about this. Why? Because it has slipped away, inch by inch — the "translation" has occurred so as to be invisible. But does that make it any less important? I certainly don't think so.

Thus, I don't see the big deal of translating the plays. I also don't think it is worth doing except for a handful of plays. The very idea that everything Shakespeare wrote has literary merit is repugnant to me. And I'm not just talking about lesser known monstrosities like Cymbeline. I'm none too fond of Hamlet. It's a fascinating play, but one that is fatally flawed. The reason it continues to be performed says far more about the needs of actors and directors than the wishes of audiences.

The good thing about these translations is that they will lay bare the uncomfortable truth that many of The Bard's plays are really not that good. It really isn't because the language is so difficult that people don't much care for The Winter's Tale. At the same time, it will highlight things that work really well like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night's Dream — interestingly, two plays that work surprisingly well with the old words.

The bad thing about these translations is that they are wasting resources that could be better spent elsewhere. Does anyone who might happen to be at the OSF really need a new way to enjoy Romeo and Juliet? That's especially true when there are really interesting plays in other languages that have never been translated. Lope de Vega wrote literally hundreds of plays. Yet to my knowledge, only one of them has been translated into English, Fuente Ovejuna. Is Lope as good a playwright as Shakespeare? I can only tell you this: not one in a thousand people at the OSF is in a position to say. Similarly, I only know of one of Cervantes' Ocho Comedias y Ocho Entremeses to have been translated, The Cave of Salamanca. Oh, how American theater could use some time away from the British Isles!

I also question just how successful these translations will be. If the translators approach the plays as the imperfect works they are, it might be fine. But if they approach them as ancient relics that must be studiously honored, it's going to be a catastrophe. As it is, what's going to be done? So much of Shakespeare involves saying the same thing over and over again. In the opening of Richard III, Shakespeare uses 18 lines to say, "We were at war and now we are at leisure." He uses another 14 lines to say, "But I'm angry about this because I'm deformed and no one loves me." Don't get me wrong: I like it. But it's not just the worlds that out of date: it's the whole approach to drama.

The idea is not a bad one. It doesn't mean that after the translations are complete, the original versions will be burned. And it doesn't mean that people will stop performing the old plays. It's just another way for people to enjoy the plays. That ought to be welcome to Shakespeare lovers. As for me, I think we have far too much Shakespeare in our lives. His plays push many repellent ideas — not least of which the idea of nobility being a question of breeding. But if you are one to say that all the world can be found in the plays of The Bard, then the more the merrier, right?

Image taken from: "Antigonus chased by a bear" by Thomas Bragg (printmaker) - Folger Shakespeare Library Digital Image Collection. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons.


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Happy Indigenous Peoples' Day!

Jake FlanaginCities across the United States and Canada are finally starting to wake up to the damage wrought by Columbus' expedition, acknowledging why it's wrong to blindly worship a man for essentially jump-starting the systemic extermination of two continents worth of indigenous societies. Several of these cities have begun to institute Indigenous Peoples' Day in its place. And that's a step in the right direction.

But we can't just change the name of the holiday if we aren't also addressing Columbus Day's de facto erasure of Native American history.

Beyond cursory examinations of the Inca, the Maya, and the Aztecs, students in North America are generally taught hemispheric history from 1492 onward. Rarely do we see social studies curricula spend much time on the fascinating exploits of the Olmec, the mound-building practices of Poverty Point culture, or intricate trade routes of the Caribbean Arawak. Students are not taught about the complex, nonverbal "wampum" constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy, or the singular architectural stylings of the Anasazi...

Essentially, this educational strategy frames the entire Native American experience as one of tragedy — which, over the last three hundred years or so, it certainly has been — but totally neglects the fact that pre-Columbian America was just as diverse, socially and politically complicated, and frankly exciting as Europe or the Middle East. There was warfare, diplomatic intrigue, rich mythology; innovation in the arts, sciences, and mathematics, and so much more going on than modern history books would have you believe.

The Americas didn't simply spring out of the ocean just so our Genoese "hero" could plant a Spanish flag in her. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue... and that's about it. Native Americans absolutely should have their own holiday. But thousands of years of history and culture deserve so much more recognition than one Monday a year.

—Jake Flanagin
Columbus Day Is a Reminder That Nothing Exists Until a White Guy "Discovers" It

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Polls and Media Narratives Mean Nothing

Hillary ClintonLast week, Jonathan Chait made a good observation, Hillary Clinton Is Reliving Al Gore's Nightmare. But I think he is missing the true story here. He thinks that Hillary Clinton and Gore are suffering from residual guilt due to Bill Clinton. He dates Gore's problems to the 1997 "fundraising for the White House" scandal as the beginning of Al Gore's problems. But is that true? Was the knock against Gore that he wasn't trustworthy? Not as I remember it. I remember the supposed problem being that he was "wooden" and had a tendency to exaggerate — not that his tenure in the White House would be scandal plagued.

After the 2000 election, there was lots of Washington journalist navel gazing. Had they given Bush a pass? Had they made stories out of literally nothing to tarnish Al Gore? Had they treated the campaign like it were an election for prom queen rather than president? The answer to all of these questions was yes. Remember Margaret Carlson's statement, "Gore elicited in us the childish urge to poke a stick in the eye of the smarty-pants"? A lot of people made fun of her about that because they saw that this was exactly the mentality of reporters who were shaping what Americans thought of the two men competing to be president.

But certainly it doesn't help to have all these fraternity and sorority rejects live out their fantasies of what it's like to be part of the "in crowd" or the "mean girls."

So I fully accept Chait's contention that Hillary Clinton is in Al Gore's position — just not that it has anything to do with Bill Clinton or anything else. The press has just decided on a narrative for Clinton and it just so happens to be the same narrative they decided for Gore: she's not authentic. It's a wonderful narrative for them because it is meaningless. In the context of a politician, what does it mean? I'm a big supporter of Bernie Sanders, but I haven't missed the fact that his hair is always combed now. This is politics: it is about shaping perceptions of reality.

But let us not forget this: Gore won the election. Electoral College or no, he won. In a democracy, Al Gore would have been president. In fact, relative to my election model, he actually did slightly better than he should have. So I don't especially worry that the Washington reporters are childish when they aren't being totally useless. The American people are smarter than that. But certainly it doesn't help to have all these fraternity and sorority rejects live out their fantasies of what it's like to be part of the "in crowd" or the "mean girls."

Clinton and every other Democrat is currently losing to the top Republican candidates in poll match-ups. Even Ben Carson is beating Clinton. But that's because people know who Clinton is and they don't know who Carson is. Thus, like young people in love, they assume anything they don't know must just be perfect. Over time, when the actual election is under way, people will learn about the Republican candidate (who will absolutely, positively not be Ben Carson). And they will make the same decision they always make: the one based upon the economy.

So, does this mean that the political reporting about the presidential campaign is useless? Yes. There's no need to beat around the bush. I so wish there were a law against political polling this early in the campaign. It provides literally no information. At this time in the 2000 campaign, Bush was beating Gore by 15 percentage points: 54% to 39%. Currently, Clinton is neck and neck with Jeb Bush. And that too means absolutely nothing — just like all the mainstream "reporting."

See also: The "Clinton Malfeasance" Conspiracy Theory.


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Morning Music: Platonic Ideal of Classical Music

MozartMany classical music fans think of it as being summed up with the Three Bs: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms — cleverly skipping my two favorite periods of classical music. But there are three towering figures of the Classical period: Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven (although as you will see later, he's more of a transitional composer). Yesterday, we listened to some early Haydn. We could now very easily listen to some late Haydn. But there is no way I am getting through the Classical period without Mozart.

One of my big complaints with the way many people treat Mozart is to assume he was some kind of composing machine. Clearly, this has much to do with Amadeus. It would make an interesting week of music to show Mozart's progression throughout his life. He was always hugely talented, of course. But his juvenilia is very clearly that. If you want to get an idea of this, check out his very first symphony, which he wrote at the age of 8. It's a fine piece of music — and shockingly great for someone that young. But compare it to his Symphony No 40 — written three years before his death.

The really tragic thing about him is that the last six years of his life were stunning with regard to his production. Just in terms of opera: The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and The Magic Flute. But today, I want to highlight an instrumental work that he wrote at the beginning of this incredibly productive period, the Piano Concerto No 23. What's interesting here is the way that the modulation from one key to another is seamless. It's particularly exciting in the third act. It is the Platonic ideal the Classical period music:

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Anniversary Post: Death of Magellan

MagellanOn this day in 1994, the Magellan spacecraft stopped transmitting after four years. It had two primary goals: map the surface and gravitational field of the toxic cloud covered planet. Venus is in many way like Earth. It is almost exactly the same size and density. They both seem to have a similar internal structures. They are both losing heat at the same rate. Yet, as Carl Sagan put it: earth is like heaven and Venus is like hell.

Venus' surface pressure is almost a hundred times the surface pressure here on earth. Standing on the surface of Venus would be like being a half mile under the ocean. You know: deadly. But it's worse than that, because it is also incredibly hot. It is 860°F, which is, you know, hotter than any regular kitchen oven. In fact, it is even hotter than the hottest pizza ovens. Venus is very, very hot. In fact, it is hotter than Mercury at noon, even though Venus only gets 25% as much energy from the sun.

The reason for this is because almost 97% of Venus' atmosphere is composed of carbon-dioxide. This creates the mother of all greenhouse effects. This fact combines with two other aspects of Venus to create a very constant temperature: almost no axial tilt (just 3° compared to 23.5° for Earth) and almost a circular orbit around the sun (eccentricity of 0.007 compared to 0.017 for the Earth). So day, night, pole, or equator, Venus is just too hot even for cooking pizzas. But the temperature does decrease with altitude. So on top of Maxwell Montes -- the highest point on Venus at 7 miles -- it is only about 700°F. And you know what that means: great pizza oven temperature! (Fun fact: there may be lead sulfide "snow" on top of Maxwell Montes!)

The Magellan mission made a number of discoveries about Venus. For example, it found that the surface was young. It is covered with volcanic material. It appears to have river-like lava flows. It is also geologically active, but doesn't seem to have plate tectonics. And there is little evidence of wind erosion. Now this is actually something I know a little bit about. First, Venus rotates very slowly (and in the wrong direction), so not much in the way of Coriolis effect. And there are no temperature gradients, so not much mixing due to that. So the atmosphere is very static.

But in September 1994, NASA announced that it was ending Magellan because its solar arrays were decaying and all the mission objectives had been met. So they put it into a gradually decaying orbit. On 11 October, it was down to roughly 85 miles above the surface of Venus. The atmosphere was thick enough at that height to cause the solar arrays to to heat up to 260°F. Two days later, Magellan went around the far side of Venus, and we never heard back. Most of it burned up, but it is assumed that parts of it crashed landed on the surface. Farewell, Magellan!

Much of this article is taken from, Anniversary Post: Magellan.

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David Brooks' Brilliant Political Insight

David BrooksLast Friday, David Brooks wrote another in his series of insight-less articles, Hillary Clinton's Opportunist Solution! In it, he said that Clinton's reversal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is all done just to compete against Bernie Sanders. Breaking news: politician panders to voters! I wish I were a big name pundit at The New York Times so that I could write articles based on trivial and useless observations. And there's a bonus: Brooks gets to frame the issues so that the Republicans he still somehow favors look good.

Check out how he started the article, "To win their party's nomination in an age of growing polarization [presidential candidates] have to adopt base-pleasing, pseudo-extreme policy positions." Oh, that's right! Being against the TPP is "pseudo-extreme"! And Brooks knows that because... Well, he doesn't say. It is just an unstated assumption. If a big city newspaper reporter is against something, it's got to be "pseudo-extreme." He would just say "extreme," but either he or his editor understands that people actually know what "extreme" means and haven't a clue what "pseudo-extreme" is. So writing the latter gives him the opportunity to imply extremism without the editors' insistence on truthfulness.

Does Brooks not remember Mitt Romney, and Eric Fehrnstrom's "Etch A Sketch" comment? If so, he certainly doesn't mention it. And rightly so! If he had, it would have undermined his entire premise.

But let's look at the other side of this. Thus far, there are three Republican presidential candidates who have released budget proposals. And they've all done the same thing: given huge amounts away to the rich while busting huge holes in the budget. But these aren't done to please the base. Indeed, I would say that Trump lost a lot of excitement from his base by putting out a budget that was the same as Jeb Bush's except more extreme. What the Republican base seems to care about is red meat rhetoric, not specific policies. So is Brooks claiming that opposition to the TPP is equivalent to calling Mexicans rapists?

Books' clever trick in this article is to say that Hillary Clinton has figured out how to appeal to the base and to the supposed centrist general election voters: she just says things she doesn't believe! This is clever only in the conservative affirmative action case where it doesn't require even the smallest amount of wit. Does Brooks not remember Mitt Romney's campaign, and Eric Fehrnstrom's "Etch A Sketch" comment? If so, he certainly doesn't mention it. And rightly so! If he had, it would have undermined his entire premise. I've looked back and can only find once that the incident came up in my writing, and it was in a quote. That's because I'm slightly more sophisticated than David Brooks, and I realize that politicians don't always tell the truth.

Hillary ClintonIn a broader sense, Brooks' article is just another of thousands about Hillary Clinton's lack of "authenticity." And in this regard, he summarizes work done at the leftist Institute for Public Accuracy. Now, I really like them — they do good work. But Brooks would never accept all of their equally accurate work on Republican candidates. But the question really isn't whether Clinton has changed her position, or as Brooks put it, "We all get to change our mind in response to the facts, but each of these intellectual inquiries happens to have led her in a politically convenient direction." Well, it also just so happens that she has moved in the direction that is natural when one follows the evidence.

For example, Clinton would now like to see prison and sentencing reform. This is a reversal from where she was twenty years ago. But should we complain about that?! She was wrong before and right now. And there actually is more information today, even if it should have been clear then. Meanwhile, with a couple of notable exceptions, the Republican candidates are still locked into the same failed "tough on crime" policies from decades past.

I don't mind people attacking Hillary Clinton if they have something real to attack her on. Brooks has nothing. And there is a way to exonerate Clinton from his charge anyway. All of the changes that Clinton has made in her positions are the same ones that Democratic voters — and to a large extent all voters — have made. So are all these voters inauthentic? If it weren't that Brooks were pushing a tired narrative, his article would seem bizarre. As it is, it is just another trivial and useless column by a man who would be unemployed in a just society.


The last part of Brooks' column is about the "downsides" of the political opportunism that he's assumed. A big part of that is about what a great humanitarian thing the TPP is for the poor people of Malaysia and Vietnam. Dean Baker rips him apart on this, David Brooks, Hillary Clinton, and the TPP. I highly recommend reading it. It explains some really important issues about the TPP, as well as calling Brooks on some of his nonsense.


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Our 'Road Rage' Based Economic Policy

Chris DillowOne of my favorite concepts is the "fundamental attribution error." This is where we tend to attribute internal causes for the actions of others but external causes for our own actions. Consider my favorite example: driving. I like it because everyone I know complains about other drivers to one extent or another. Ask someone if they've ever been cut off in traffic, and they will almost always jump at it like a dog on red meat, "Just the other day! I was driving..." But what's more important is the reason that they were cut off: the guy's just a jerk.

On the other hand, if you are driving with someone who cuts someone else off, they will tell you they had reasons. They are in a super big rush because their boss will kill them if they are late or the traffic was so bad that they had no choice or -- and this is the most common -- they just screwed up. And they are right! I've never known someone who drives around just looking for opportunities to piss off other people. But if you point this out to someone who has been cutoff, they will usually reject the notion violently.

I ran into this with a Christopher Hitchens fan who was mad at Richard Seymour. There was an admittedly vague sentence in Seymour's book Unhiched. The reader understood the sentence to mean something that was clearly not true. I noted that he was misunderstanding what Seymour had written. And the reader's response was, "Garbage." Because it just had to be that Seymour was an evil man who wrote something he knew was wrong just to slander Hitchens. The much more reasonable explanation that Seymour had written a vague sentence that could be misinterpreted was not possible. Obviously, the reader would have had a different opinion if we were talking about his own writing.

Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling wrong something interesting in regard to this, Demand Deniers. It's about the Tories in the UK. They believe that people don't have jobs because they just don't want them — rather than blaming it on outside forces. So they deny that the problem is the lack of demand that these unemployed and under-employed people experience. This, as Dillow noted, is a classic fundamental attribution error. But it is worse than that, because unlike people driving or even ignorant Christopher Hitchens fans, there is economic information on this subject.

But you can see where this comes from. The people making policy in the UK are all from the same class. They are all educated at the same top tier schools. They know that if they found themselves out of job, there would be plenty of people who would give them a job. So it must be the same for gardeners and auto mechanics and computer programmers, right?! It's amazing that the moment that the left talks about inequality, we are blamed for class warfare. But these people live in a separate, closed off, society and that is just right and proper.

I'm not sure why we are so prone to the fundamental attribution error. But its result in the modern world is that we assume that the rich must be good, hard working people, and the poor must be bad and lazy. Public policy should be based on science, not such base instincts. We shouldn't be running our economy based upon the same thinking patterns that bring us road rage.


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Morning Music: Classical Survey Continued

Joseph HaydnSince I feel like I'm a little less crushed for time with the new schedule, I thought it might be a good idea to return to our survey of classical music. When last we left it, we were at the end of the Baroque period, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. You can check there for a full list of the week's posts. And so today, we start at the beginning of the classical period.

As you can no doubt understand, the periods are not exactly clear. Obviously, people were still playing and composing Baroque music well into the classical period. Interestingly, one of the very greatest Baroque composers, Antonio Vivaldi, was all but forgotten until the 20th century, when the great violinist Fritz Kreisler wrote a violin concerto and attributed it to Vivaldi. But what you will notice is that there is not a huge difference between the best work of the late Baroque and that of the early Classical period. In fact, my late Baroque composer CPE Bach is really more of a Classical computer.

The first great composer of the Classical period is Joseph Haydn. (Let's set aside Gluck for now.) In fact, other than Mozart, there is no one I like as well. In fact, the two men were very close friends. I think that Haydn was kind of a father figure to Mozart — but one who wasn't a total prick like his real father. I wrote about their special relationship last year, The Son Joseph Haydn Never Had. But Haydn lived such a long time that it would be wrong to think about him only with regard to the early Classical period.

So let's listen to an early quartet. It was composed in 1763, when Haydn was just 31 years old. As time goes on, it gets harder to be clear about what is changing. There are a few things that stick out to me, however. First is the lack of ornamentation. In the same way that the worst of Romantic period music mindlessly uses chromatic scales, Baroque often ornamented melodies out of existence. There's also more harmonic structure, with phrases driving to resolution. But it is also, and most importantly I think, less academic — more emotional. This is his Quartet No 8 in E major. I'm sorry, but I could not find a professional live recording of it. Understandably, professionals tend to stick with his later and more refined work. This is still quite beautiful:

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Anniversary Post: Two Jokes, One Intentional

Mario BiaggiOn this day exactly 40 years ago, Saturday Night Live premiered on television. I have all kinds of problems with the show, but one thing most people don't want to admit is that it always just moderately successful. Think about it. The first big star to come out of the show was Chevy Chase. Now I don't have anything especially against him, and I still think his 1980 album, Chevy Chase, was a unique comedic work. It was also something of an aberration in a career of almost uninterrupted mediocrity. And that was what people were just crazy about that first season.

But there were really great things on the show. Andy Kaufman was on it. It had some amazing stuff from Michael O'Donoghue. There was and always has been a decent amount of stuff to like. But it didn't take very long for the show to give up even a pretense to having any edge. I can't imagine that it would offend anyone for the last 35 years at least. Oh, except for Sinead O'Connor — who like so many other people were banned from the "edgy" show for coming anywhere near being edgy.

But an even bigger joke took place exactly a year later: President Ford signed Public Law 94-479. And what did this important piece of legislation do? It appointed George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States. What's more, it was done retroactively to the date 4 July 1976. It is a stunningly pathetic thing to do.

Understand: I think these kinds of symbolic gestures are important. But doing this for George Washington?! Like Washington had been mistreated by history? It was introduced by Democrat Mario Biaggi. He was an interesting guy, who only died a couple of months ago at the age of 97. Most of his Wikipedia page is dedicated to his conviction for corruption, which got him sentenced to 8 years. (He only served a couple for health reasons, which is strange, given he lived another 24 years after his release.) But the other big part of his Wikipedia page is this stupid law. Such were his accomplishments: selling favors and celebrating over-celebrated figures from our history.

So there you go: two jokes in one anniversary post.


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