Recycled Genius

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

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

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


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Eric Cantor and the Mediocrity of the Successful

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

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

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

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

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

Eric Cantor Is Typical

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

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

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Morning Music: Darius Milhaud

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

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

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

Darius Milhaud's Suite for Clarinet, Violin and Piano

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

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

The quote from Bacharach above is definitely true here.

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Anniversary Post: Emperor Jimmu and National Foundation Day

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

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

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

Emperor Jimmu: Real Myth?

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

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


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Coen Brothers and the Stupidity of Film Rankings

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

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

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

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

Comparing Coen Brothers' Diverse Style

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

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

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

Afterword: Coen Brothers

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


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Could Sanders Win? Why Is Clinton Whining?!

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

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

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

Has Clinton Campaign Harmed Itself?

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

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

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

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


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Moring Music: Arthur Honegger

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

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

Arthur Honegger's Pacific 231

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

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

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Frank Moraes, Glenn Beck, and Libertarian Insanity

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

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

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

A Quick Libertarian History of Frank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update (9 February 2016 9:28 pm)

I really don't appreciate this!

Frank's Birthday Google

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


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"Don't Be a Pillock" and Other Useless Things I Can Help You With

PillockOh, there was a time when my phone would have been ringing off the hook. But not on Super Bowl Sunday. People just grab their phones and say, "Google, what is a pillock?" In a sane world, Google would spit back, "Don't ask me! Ask your friend Frank; it's about the only thing he's good for!"

During the Super Bowl, Budweiser ran a "don't drink and drive" commercial starring Helen Mirren. Now, on the one hand, I hate these kind of commercials. They remind me of a heroin dealer saying, "Now remember: don't share syringes!" But on the other hand: Helen Mirren. Also, I'm sure that Budweiser would prefer that people take Merle Haggard's advice and just stay home and drink.

Toward the end of this one minute long spot, Mirren says, "Don't be a pillock!" That's the line that should have had all my friends reaching for the phone — to call me (not to ask Google).

Now, it's not that I have known what the word "pillock" means for a long time. In fact, although I've probably known it a long time, the only reason it stands out to me is because I just recently read The Truth, where William and Otto have the following conversation:

"Ah, zis is for my experiment," said Otto proudly. "You know zat another term for an iconographer would be 'photographer'? From the old word photus in Latation, vhich means—"

"'To prance around like a pillock ordering everyone about as if you owned the place,'?" said William.

"Ah, you know it!"

What Does Pillock Mean?

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, "pillock" is British informal, "A stupid person." It comes from the mid-16th century, and like most insults was originally a word for "penis."

If Herman Melville's short story "Bartleby" asks us to consider what we are to do with our mentally ill, I would like to raise a similar question, "What are we to do with the keepers of useless knowledge?" In other words: what are we to do with me.

Don't get me wrong: I still get by. At work, my vast store of arcane knowledge often comes in useful to spice up otherwise boring subjects. And the writer of that commercial was probably an American who had read some Terry Pratchett or spent a summer in England or otherwise picked up the word. Although you are unlikely to come upon one of us in your everyday life we are everywhere. (We are especially congregated here at Frankly Curious where the odd bit of knowledge is still valued as an end in itself.)

But certainly the day is coming where there will be no need for someone who can respond to "I'm lactose intolerant" with, "That reminds me of Marlen Haushofer!" Soon, your phone will have a setting on it, "Know-it-all friend who sometimes amuses me." And then we will be these sad figures who roam the streets in the early mornings muttering about Schopenhauer and how Finnegans Wake really calls into question the brilliance of Ulysses. And no one should read Portrait of the Artist past high school. And back to Schopenhauer and why I should even eat today when I'll only have to do it again tomorrow.

So really, fine. Just use your little phones. But I still think it'll take you a while to connect "Marlen Haushofer" and "lactose intolerant." And no cheating by looking it up on Frankly Curious!


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Why Reformocons Don't Like Trump

Donald Trump and the ReformoconsBrian Beutler wrote a slightly rambling article this morning, Will Marco Rubio's Fragile Appeal Be Shattered in New Hampshire? It's worth reading in full, but I want to focus on one small part of it where he talks about the reformocons.

For those of you who don't know, the reformocons are conservative pundits who want to reform the Republicans Party and the conservative movement generally. I usually call them "reformish" conservatives after Ryan Cooper's article on the subject. And the moniker is good, because they aren't actually interested in reform. They aren't the equivalent of the Democratic Leadership Council and they would never lead to the rise of "New Republicans."

Reformocons Are Frauds

Instead, the reformocons are, as Mike Konczal put it, "more gestural than substantive." Or as I put it, Reform Republicans Only Sound Reasonable — It's in the Job Description. They fiddle around the edges, but mostly they just want to teach the Republican Party to talk nice and not offend people. When it comes to actual policy, they are as committed to the Randian utopia as Paul Ryan.

But in Beutler's article, he noted that it was strange that the reformocons have gathered around Rubio. He quoted Michael Brendan Dougherty saying, "Rubio's candidacy is essentially based on the premise that nothing from the George W Bush era has to change for the Republican Party." Indeed! The one area where Rubio was supposed to be a moderate was on immigration reform. And if you are out of your teens, you must remember how hard the Bush administration fought for immigration reform.

Reformocons Hate Trump

The supposed basis of the reformocons is that they want the party to be less elitist and to try to make the economy work for the middle class. Well, who in the Republican primary is pushing that message? Certainly not Rubio who "alone proposes reforms (zeroed-out investment taxes, zeroed-out inheritance taxes, significantly reduced corporate taxes) designed to minimize (and in many cases eliminate) the tax liabilities of members of the Republican donor class." No, the person that the reformocons should be backing is Donald Trump. Yet they hate him!

Given what I've already written, it shouldn't be too hard to understand why the reformocons don't get behind Trump: because they are frauds! Their reform agenda (such as it is) is designed only to keep the Republican Party competitive. And it isn't as though they fear Trump won't be an actual conservative. He proposed a ridiculously regressive tax plan (pdf). But it is other areas where it seems clear that Trump would actually do what the reformocons claim to want to do: help the middle class.

Obviously, Trump cuts against the number one thing that the reformocons want: a more "presentable" Republican Party. His outspoken xenophobia isn't "nice." But ultimately, the reformocons don't get behind Donald Trump for the same reason that the Republican elites don't: they don't think he can win the general election. Because that's all they really care about: winning elections so that the tax cuts on the rich continue to roll in and the reproductive freedom continues to roll out.

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Morning Music: Georges Auric

Georges AuricI have previously stated that Georges Auric was the "least interesting" of Les Sis. But that's not really fair. The big problem with him is that he wrote a great deal of movie music, and that is never the best format in which to show off one's talent. That's not to say that it doesn't take talent, but just that the music is subordinate — although not always as in his score for Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête.

There isn't a lot written about Georges Auric. He was a member of Les Six. He wrote a lot of film scores. He was a political radical. But you can hear in his music a distinct attack on the impressionists. With the other members, I feel they are building on it. But Auric seems to be saying, "Enough of this polite music!" And what he ends up with is a fascinatingly eclectic style. There are romantic elements in it. In the following piece, Ouverture, per Orchestra, from 1932, he even throws in some explicit chromaticism. Yet it is all part of a soup and just when you think you know what he's doing, he veers off in a surprising (and to me, delightful) direction.

In this piece, you can see why Georges Auric would be a natural as a film composer. He has so many tools available to him. And he is fearless. Of course, this piece was written just about at the time that he became focused on film. But before that, he wrote quite a lot for the theater and ballet. But Auric does show just what an arbitrary group Les Six was. On a technical level, they aren't much alike. They weren't generally friends. But there is something about all their work that seems to bind them together. I just can't say what it is.

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Anniversary Post: Halley's Comet Last Perihelion

Halley's CometOn this day in 1986, Halley's Comet last reached perihelion — its closest approach to the Sun. This was right about the time I decided that I was not going to be a musician and that I was going to kill myself if I had to continue to be a baker. So I had started studying physics and math in my spare time and took a few courses at the local junior college. I befriended a guy who was really into astronomy. And I went out with him and his wife to view the fabled comet.

It was uninspiring, to say the least. The last visit of Halley's Comet didn't bring it very close to the Earth. So it looked like a smudge in the sky. But that was more or less my introduction to experimental astronomy. And by that, I mean standing out in the cold near telescopes. I had gone with the same friend a year earlier to see Carl Sagan give a talk on his book Comet. But this was rather different. And in the coming years, I would spend a lot of time at the Sonoma State University Observatory.

But that really wasn't about astronomy. I only ever learned any astronomy when I was forced to teach it as a lowly college professor. At that time, the observatory had just gotten a CCD camera that we hooked up to a telescope (a 13" reflector, as I recall). I had written some very small part of software for the system and I was usually the guy who controlled it for public viewings. But that just meant that I was where I am almost always when I'm awake: sitting in from of a computer.

As nerd activities go, astronomy is one of the better ones. And it takes place outside. At the same time, it is at night, which is more in keeping with nerd sensibilities.


Filed under Anniversaries, Science & Data

Concerns About Sanders' General Election Chances

Bernie Sanders' General Election ChancesThe other night, my friend Will told me, "You've really been coming out strong for Bernie Sanders recently!" That surprised me because I feel more and more stuck in the middle. I have substantive problems with Clinton on policy. And I have real concerns about Bernie Sanders' general election chances. This isn't, of course, a brand new thing. I've been grappling with the question for some time. Back in September, I wrote, What Risk Is Bernie Sanders Worth? I wrote then, "If I think that Hillary Clinton has a 55% chance of winning the general election and Bernie Sanders has a 45% chance, then there is no question: I'll go with Bernie. If Bernie has a 10% chance, I'll go with Hillary."

The funny thing is, at the last Democratic debate, I got a sense that Sanders himself is a little concerned that he might win the primary. All throughout this campaign, I've thought that Sanders was the real deal — that he wasn't an issue candidate, but someone who really thought he could win the presidency. Now I don't know. But it could be that I'm projecting. If Bernie is a real threat to Hillary, I need to get very serious about both of their general election chances.

But let's not kid ourselves. Playing the electability game is foolish. In 2004, as a party, we chose Kerry over Dean because he was more electable. But knowing what I now know about political science, Dean was clearly our best chance of winning the presidency. The only way that we could have won that election was by making it about the Iraq War, and that was something that Kerry just couldn't do. I do think that under normal circumstances, Clinton has the better general election chances. But if the economy starts to crumble, Sanders will likely be the only chance the Democrats have.

Bernie Sanders' General Election Chances

One concern about Sanders that I've had for some time now is that if the economy continues to improve, the Republicans might be smart and make the election about foreign policy and terrorism. Now, as was fully on display at Saturday's GOP debate: the Republicans have the problem of not actually wanting to do anything different than the Democrats; they just want to talk tough. But that could be enough to convince the electorate. In the end, it is all about perceptions anyway. But the Republicans couldn't do that if Clinton were the candidate. So I tend to think that even a major domestic terrorist attack would benefit Clinton.

If true, that makes Bernie Sanders' general election chances more like the 10% case than the 45% case. And that frightens me.

Last week, Max Fisher wrote a very good article, Why I'm Not Writing Off Bernie Sanders on Foreign Policy. Basically, he said that foreign policy was really all a game. There are certain advisers that presidents have, and this is how foreign policy is determined. The media are caught up in Sanders going through a certain political theater where he shows that he understands foreign policy and he knows who the president of Ubeki-beki-beki-stan-stan is. Sanders is instead focused on the economy, which is why I love him. But it also hurts his general election chances.

My second concern comes from an article by Jeff Stein, We Asked 6 Political Scientists if Bernie Sanders Would Have a Shot in a General Election. It's an actual article genre at Vox, with articles like, "We Asked 6 Zoologists What the Giraffe's Most Distinctive Feature Is." But they are useful. And the consensus was that Bernie could win under the right circumstances. Much of it is just conventional wisdom and I don't buy into it. I continue to wonder about one bit of political science that no one seems to understand: why does the electorate get more liberal when a conservative is in the White House and vise versa. And if that's the case, why do most presidents win re-election?

But Seth Masket said something that concerned me. He said that Sanders' more liberal positions would probably cost him 2 to 3 percentage points in the general election. Now, maybe I'm just letting my natural affinity for math sway me — he used numbers! But he put it into a context that I know very well and believe in very strongly, "It's not as big an effect as flipping a growing economy to one in recession. It's more like flipping a growing economy to a stalled one." Ouch.

If true, that makes Bernie Sanders' general election chances more like the 10% case than the 45% case. And that frightens me. A Republican president would be a catastrophe. I keep thinking, "The electorate has to wake up eventually! They can't keep voting for the same failed promises and utter incompetence!" But all evidence says that they can.

Meanwhile, I will continue to accumulate information about Bernie Sanders' general election chances.


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