Nick Cave, There Is No More to Say

Nick CaveListen up folks: Nick Cave is 57 today. I have almost nothing to say about him. His work speaks for itself. I understand that he is a novelist and a screenwriter. And I even remember him acting (so to speak) in Tom DiCillo’s first film, Johnny Suede. But I don’t know much about this side of his life. I just know his music, especially in Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds. Of course, at this point it is hard to separate him from the band since Mick Harvey and Blixa Bargeld left the band — the three of them pretty much were the band. Of course, the band is as good as ever. That’s perhaps that greatest thing about Nick Cave: he hasn’t decreased the quality of his work over time.

Here is a whole set from when the original members were all still in the band. There is no more to say:

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Christianity Doesn’t Have Early Sources

Rylands Library Papyrus P52I think the Bible is fascinating. It’s like the Iliad, but it consists of a bunch of short stories rather than one long, gorgeous narrative. And it isn’t nearly as interesting. But I do love the Bible in the same way. Ancient literature is awesome! It’s always interesting to see what stories different peoples tell themselves because of what it says about them. Just look at what postmodern literature says about us! Look at Waiting for Godot, which is a modernist work. It says that we are a people coming to terms with the fact that we have only each other to rely on and there is no God (or anything else) that will save us. Then comes Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, a postmodernist work. It says that we’ve given up on finding any meaning and we are going to just have fun playing word games and solving Sudoku puzzles.

Of course, not all of us feel this way. In fact, in America, the vast majority of the people have regressed and hang onto ancient religions to provide (mythical) structure and (mythical) certainty. I don’t especially have a problem with this. I know there are nice old people at Unitary churches throughout the nation who have concrete ideas of morality. They are better people than I am and I hope that I can become more like them over time. But they are a small minority. A very large fraction of Americans are people who believe that the Bible is the literal word of God.

Let’s start with the language that God speaks: Greek. I still find it interesting that most American Christians never much think about the fact that they only know their religions through a translation. And which translation? That in itself shows you how cultural Christianity is. Protestants tend to like the King James translation. Catholics tend to like the Douay-Rheims translation. I tend to perfer the New American Standard translation because it is said to be the closest to the original Greek. But increasingly, I go with King James, especially when it is a well known passage. But just what does it mean to go back to the original text?

Consider Theseus’ paradox: if you have an ax and over the years you are forced to replace the handle and the head, is it still the same ax? The same issue is discussed in the movie Blow Up. At the end, the main character is left with his final enlargement. But without the sequence of “blow ups” it is meaningless. It only has meaning in context.

Well, the earliest complete Bible we have is the Codex Sinaiticus, which is from roughly 350 CE. That is over three centuries past when old Jesus is supposed to have been killed and rose up and all that stuff. What’s more, it is missing much of the Gospels. Of course, the biggest thing that is missing from it is the end of Mark when Jesus shows himself to everyone. This is because that wasn’t originally in Mark. It is a later interpolation.

But do you see that little fragment there at the top of this article? That little piece of papyrus that measures 9 square inches? That’s the Rylands Library Papyrus P52. It is a fragment from John 18. And it is dated at roughly 125 CE. That’s roughly a century after old Jesus is supposed to have been killed and rose up and all that stuff. This is the oldest New Testament Bible fragment in existence!

In fairness, it’s a pretty damned good fragment. It is from when Pontius Pilate is interrogating Jesus. But the front of it only says:

the Jews, “For us
anyone,” so that the w
oke signifyin
die. En
rium P
and sai
Jews?”

I just think it is odd that Christians think their religion can be traced all the way back to this guy Jesus. I have no problem with people being mystical and thinking that the “feel” Jesus. Who am I to say? But a religion that has only 41 words (several only fragments) a hundred years after the events that are central to the religion? That strikes me as very weak tea indeed.

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2003 The Italian Job Worse Than 1969 Version

The Italian Job (2003)After my recent disappointment with the original, 1969 version of The Italian Job, I figured I would give a try to the 2003 remake of The Italian Job. But I was wrong. It is not a remake. It just uses the title and the Mini Coopers and the traffic jam. The most remarkable thing about it is that the job is not in Italy. Oh sure, there is an “Italian job” at the very beginning of the film that goes bad, and the rest of the film involves a revenge plot stemming from it. But it takes place is exotic Los Angeles.

But okay, it’s a heist film. And Seth Green as the computer hacker actually does computer hacking, although the way he breaks passwords is all wrong, and not even as advanced as in War Games, made two decades earlier. But it still feels a lot more real than watching Benny Hill replace one computer tape with another. And the whole heist seems a whole lot more like something that would work. But that’s true of most modern heist films.

The only thing that really makes a heist film worth watching is that they usually star charismatic people. This is why Ocean’s Eleven worked so well, even though its heist was riddled with holes. The Italian Job is led by Mark Wahlberg, a man so uncharismatic that if Lawrence of Arabia were remade with him, people would mistake it for Koyaanisqatsi. Up next to him is the beautiful and talented Charlize Theron — also without discernible charisma beyond the cleavage she shows when wearing a cami that is two sizes too small.

In order to round out the crew, we have Mos Def as the fairly interesting munitions expert. Characters who are good at blowing things up are always interesting. And then we have to have Jason Statham, who plays Handsome Rob, who seems to be in the movie just because screenwriters are nerds and this is one of the few outlets they have for their sexual fantasies except for the stories they submit to Literotica. But I guess he does provide the same function for female viewers as Charlize Theron does for the males.

In some ways, the movie is less realistic than the original. At least in the original, three professional drivers were brought in to do the getaway. Here we’re supposed to think that when Theron’s character wasn’t studying everything anyone ever knew about cracking safes, she was learning to make Mini Coopers waltz. But okay, whatever. I like watching Charlize Theron driving around in a Mini Cooper as much as the next guy.

But what about those Mini Coopers? Why Mini Coopers? There was a very good reason for them in the original film. It was basically nationalistic. The British were giving the Italians a spanking. This was explicit. The English gangster (Noël Coward) was backing the job for the good of England and the Italian gangster (Raf Vallone) wants to stop the job for Italy. So the Mini Coopers were a symbol of British pride. What’s more, there were three cars, one each in red, white, and blue: the colors of the British flag. Well, we get the same thing in this new film but there is no reason for it. This is a film about a group of Americans sticking it to another American.

Speaking of that other American, I read this about Edward Norton’s role as the bad guy, “Norton took the role of Steve Frazelli, due to a contractual obligation he had to fulfill.” That makes me feel better about him because as I was watching the film, I was wondering why he took this role that is provided absolutely no motivation in what is a very mediocre script. The full extent of his character is when Wahlberg tells him, “Same old Steve, huh? Always thinking defensively. That’s why you’re always number two… You got no imagination.” Of course, he had enough imagination to rip off Wahlberg’s entire team at the beginning of the film. What he didn’t have was intelligence, because the entire plot depended upon him being stupid.

Don’t take this to mean it is a bad movie. It’s okay. But for $60 million, a lot more could be done. And in the end, the original film is more fun. This one takes itself very seriously in the same way that Mark Wahlberg takes himself very seriously. It is cookie-cutter filmmaking. And it includes its own indictment of the filmmakers, “You got no imagination.”

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Racist Apologetics From Recent Mormons

Joseph Fielding SmithThere is a reason why one man is born black and with other disadvantages, while another is born white with great advantages. The reason is that we once had an estate before we came here, and were obedient, more or less, to the laws that were given us there. Those who were faithful in all things there received greater blessings here, and those who were not faithful received less…

There were no neutrals in the war in Heaven. All took sides either with Christ or with Satan. Every man had his agency there, and men receive rewards here based upon their actions there, just as they will receive rewards hereafter for deeds done in the body. The Negro, evidently, is receiving the reward he merits.

—Joseph Fielding Smith, LDS President
Doctrines of Salvation, 1954

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Blacklist and a Culture in Decline

BlacklistThe television series Blacklist was recommended to me. I had seen an ad for it before it came out and it looked rather good. I have long been a fan of James Spader — at least since he got to play characters that weren’t trust fund babies (although he did them well). Since Netflix was pushing it on me, I decided to watch an episode. The first episode is very much like The Silence of the Lambs, but without the cannibalism. Later episodes stray from this formula and the series gets tired fast.

By far, the biggest problem with the show is that it has only one really compelling thing: James Spader. When he’s on the screen, all is fun. When he’s not, I was wondering why I was watching. Much of the show revolves around FBI Special Agent Elizabeth Keen. She is a profiler who seems to have no insights into human nature at all. She is married to the world’s perfect man — a fourth grade teacher who may or may not have a secret past along the lines of Jason Bourne with piles of cash, piles of passports, and a handgun. Really: it’s like they just went into the property department of Universal Pictures and stole the safe deposit contents from The Bourne Identity and put them in a wooden box.

The plot arc of the first season is what I call “kitchen sink” writing. There is so much junk thrown into the story that absolutely anything could be really going on. Red, the James Spader character, could be Keen’s real father. Or he could be a friend of her father who while he lay dying made Red promise to watch out for his daughter. Or he could have killed Keen’s father. Or maybe her father is not dead. It could be any of these things and more. And this is to mention nothing of Red’s past. Or Keen’s husband. The problem is that the show is not going anywhere. It is bouncing around and then the writers will decide which place to stop.

In a sense, this doesn’t matter. People love this. My father is addicted to Resurrection. People enjoy the journey. The problem is that stories dependent upon mysteries that are never well explained always leave a bitter aftertaste. I remember how much I like Twin Peaks, only to find the ending totally disappointing. It isn’t that I had a problem with the father being the murderer. It was that the ending was random. What’s more, it didn’t even comply with the plot up to that point.

On a micro-scale, Blacklist works equally badly. Each episode flits around. The main plot of each show would fit easily inside a half hour. So that leaves the other commercial television half hour (21 minutes) for side “drama.” Often in the middle of some ticking time bomb plot, Keen and Red find time for some banter — often on a park bench. Not that I’m complaining! The main plots are without exception boring and totally unbelievable. All the people on the blacklist are so clever that the FBI doesn’t even know they exist. But then they are caught through various mistakes that such clever people would never make. It is like Edward Snowden starring in “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs.” Oh my God! He’s calling from the extension upstairs!

A very troubling aspect of the series is its casual use of torture. In this way, Blacklist is the intelligent man’s 24. But of the half dozen episodes I watched, this seemed to go away. I hope that is a trend. Torture itself doesn’t go away. But I have no problem with torture. Growing up, I watched a lot of cinematic torture. What has been really bad since 9/11 is that we see the supposed good guys torturing. This is sick and an indication of a culture in steep decline.

Despite everything, I still found myself draw to the show. Harry Lennix as the Assistant Director of FBI counterterrorism adds a lot of humanity to a show that has too much disregard for human life — especially in the form of Keen’s partner Donald Ressler and torturer in chief Meera Malik. But after a while, everything is flying off in all directions. I came to realize that I didn’t really care what happened to any of these characters. And in that way, I am right with the producers. But the sad thing is that this is that Blacklist is an above average show. And that doesn’t speak well of us as a people.

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Political Writer H G Wells

H G WellsOn this day in 1866, the great writer H G Wells was born. He is best known for novels like The Time Machine, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds. But I’m not very interested in them. I just don’t find science fiction all that interesting.

But apparently, he didn’t either. All those books were written in the late 1890s. After that, he spent much of his time writing about politics. He was a proponent of socialism. But during his lifetime events changed quite a lot and he eventually came to see the best kind of system as the social democracies we see today in Europe.

I find his position on Zionism very interesting because it so follows along with mine. Throughout most of his life, he was against Zionism because he considered it exclusionary. He felt that all the races should interbreed, so that we could all get on with the business of being human. I’m totally with him on that. Whenever I hear people talking about keeping races pure (which I do sometimes regarding Africans and Jews), it sounds like madness. If there is anything good to come of globalization, it must certainly be that we can get past this mythical idea of race.

The problem is that there are always people who will divide us. I still find it amazing that people hate Jews, when in terms of “race” they just seem like white people. Yet the Nazis based a whole nation-cult-genocide on it. After seeing what the Nazis had done to the Jews, Wells changed his position. I find myself again with him. But in my mind, Zionism ought to be a temporary thing as the people of the world get on with their interbreeding to make us all a bunch of beautiful brownish people. Unfortunately, I think that Zionism tends to perpetuate the “purity of the race” thinking. But that discussion is well above my pay grade.

What’s perhaps greatest about Wells is that he really was a thinker. And as a result, he managed to annoy and offend just about everyone. I’m not saying that that is a good in and of itself. But he was idiosyncratic. And he followed that. And I admire it.

Happy birthday H G Wells!

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Secession Oriented States: Full Correlation

Correlation Between Secession Desire and Federal Funding

After writing Secession Oriented States Get More From Feds Than They Give, it bothered me that I didn’t do the analysis of all the regions. So I did them. I still wish I had the numbers for the individual states, but I was able to run a correlation on what I had.

There is a correlation, but it isn’t that strong — about 80% or 1.2 sigma. The problem is the Southeast: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia. This is a very big and heterogeneous collection of states. What’s more, there is a slight problem with the Rockies: Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. This area is a lot more anti-government than their low federal benefits would indicate. But there is a reason for this. Colorado is 56% of the economy of this region and it has an extremely low federal benefit level (70%). Without it, the level would be 106%. That would put it right along the line implied by the other regions (without the Southeast).

Regardless, there is a correlation: areas that get more federal government largess are more likely to be in favor of getting rid of the federal government. Just the same, the correlation is weak. But we ought to expect that given the grouping of the states. That will tend to reduce the correlation and that is more true the larger the group is, as in the Southeast.

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Secession Oriented States Get More From Feds Than They Give

Secession Reuters Poll

I learned from the Los Angeles Times, Poll: Nearly One in Four in America Would Favor Secession. In one way, this doesn’t matter in the least. It seems that there is always about a third of the American people who are in favor of anything. But this is probably a real thing. Still, the Times is wrong to claim that, “Nearly one out of four Americans is so fed up with Washington that they are prepared to not take it any more and would favor their state breaking away from the rest of the United States.” I doubt that’s true, even if the writer is trying to be cute. What it probably means is that one-quarter of Americans are just crazy.

The data come from a Reuters/Ipsos poll. It also found that men were more in favor of leaving the union as were poor people (probably an indication that they lived in poor states more than that poor people in New York want to leave the union). It is above all an indication that there are a lot of frustrated and angry Americans. A whopping 53% of people who identified with the Tea Party want to leave the United States. This goes along with what I’ve long said: there is a strong tendency towards treason in the conservative movement.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the details of the data. It looks like they just didn’t release it for each state. It is very possible they didn’t have enough data to do a state by state analysis. But going off the regions in the map above, I decided to take a look at just how reasonable dropping out of the union is. As is well documented, the states where the people most complain about the federal government are generally the states that get the most money from the federal government. No one ever said Americans were rational.

I’m sure you’ve seen maps that show how much a particular state gets back from the federal government for each dollar it puts in. The biggest determinant of this is the age of the population. Like Florida gets a whole lot more back because there are so many retired people. Nonetheless, this percentage does tell us a lot about how different states would get along by themselves. But there is a problem: those maps you’ve seen are almost all wrong. That’s because they usually represent a single year. Things change a lot over the years. So what I did was to do the ten year average from the data fro 2004 through 2013. Then, to get the regional values, I did a weighted average based upon how much total money they send in federal taxes.

I only did the calculation for three regions: West, Southwest, and New England. I’m especially interested in the last two because they represent the most and least interested in leaving the country. The return on federal taxes for the regions are as follows:

  • $0.85 West
  • $1.19 Southwest
  • $0.86 New England

In other words: the states are want to leave the union are the ones who depend most upon it. Now some might take exception with the Southwest, because Texas is generally presented as a state that pays more in federal taxes than they get back. While that is true of some years and was true of last year, it hasn’t generally been true. For the last decade, Texas has received $1.02 for every dollar it has sent to the federal government.

But let’s face it: this isn’t about economics. People who want to leave the United States want to do it for cultural reasons. They want to deny same sex couples equal rights. They want to make abortion illegal. And not to put too fine a point on it, but there are a lot more people than you think who want to deny rights to different races and to bring back Jim Crow or worse.

Still, it is interesting to see that economically it doesn’t make sense. And I have little doubt that those who call for secession think that the federal government is screwing them in terms of taxes as well.

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The Rich Win Again, This Time in Scotland

Scottish Independence DeniedAs I’ve been clear: I never thought that Scotland would vote to leave the United Kingdom. And I’ve had my problems with the idea. In particular, I think they should have dealt with the monetary issue facing them. They needed to set up their own currency. All they had to do was talk to some people in Spain. Or Italy. Or Ireland, for God’s sake! But overall, I was in favor of Scotland leaving the UK.

It reminds me of a bit from the film 1776 when Benjamin Franklin is arguing with John Dickinson, “We’ve spawned a new race here, Mr. Dikinson. Rougher, simpler; more violent, more enterprising; less refined. We’re a new nationality. We require a new nation.” That doesn’t perfectly apply to Scotland, but I do think it ought to be its own nation. It isn’t Northern England. It is a distinct group of people and to paraphrase Dr Franklin, “It deserves to be a new nation.”

Most liberals were pretty positive toward Scottish independence. But I find it a bit bothersome that some of my liberal friends are thrilled that Scotland is staying in the United Kingdom. As liberals, we should all know that other than the United States, the UK is the most conservative and therefore messed up country among the advanced economies. It is always one step behind us in stepping on the little guy with powerful and innovated new tools. The Scots are a more liberal people. And not only would it be nice to have another liberal country, the break with the UK would probably have pushed England a bit toward the left itself.

Zack Beauchamp has done great coverage of the Scotland vote for Vox over the past month, and yesterday he provided another interesting article, The Scottish Vote Was a Class War and the Rich Won. It is based upon some preliminary research by Susan Johnston at the University of Edinburgh. And she found a shockingly clear correlation between support for staying in the UK and disposable income of the voter. I’ve greatly altered the original graph, which actually makes the correlation look even stronger:

Scotland Independence Vote by Class

There is only thing that bugs me about this graph. This could just be showing an age divide. In general, older people are more wealthy than younger people. But based upon polls before the election, I think we will find that even taking this into account, the Scottish independence vote was very much a class vote. And look at this “10 Reasons for Scottish Independence.” It looks like the Scottish version of Occupy Wall Street:

Scotland Independence Vote by Class

I especially like the last one, “A fairer society that cares for all its people, not just the rich.” Again, now may not be the time for Scottish independence. I would like the whole issue to be taken more seriously because I don’t want the Scottish people to be hurt. But there is no cause for triumphalism about this vote. It is a mixed bag. But as an American liberal, I stand far more with Scotland than I do the United Kingdom or even Ireland.

But all liberals really ought to think hard about celebrating the continued taxation of Scotland for the purpose of supporting one of the largest and most aggressive militaries in the world. It is terrible that a liberal people are forced to support a government that even when nominally liberal gets anemic leaders like Gordon Brown or war criminals like Tony Blair. And otherwise, they get corporate stooges like David Cameron.

So maybe it is for the best that Scotland remain in the United Kingdom. I’m certainly open to that argument. But this is no time for celebration. The vote against independence is what the rich wanted. If it happens to be the right thing, that’s just a coincidence. The rich get what they want. That’s true here in the United States. And it is sadly also true in Scotland.

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Image Use in Blog Article Layout

ClutterThere are three ways that one can format a blog post. The way that Frankly Curious does it is by far the best. But before I get to that, let’s discuss the different ways. The most common is what I call, “We don’t need no stinking pictures!” This is what you get from smaller blogs. They are just trying to get their messages out. They don’t have the time or the resources to add imagines to their posts. And there really is no need for the images. That’s especially true for people like Digby who we all read because she’s brilliant.

This kind of format is also found on Bloomberg blogs. I assume this is because these posts are going to be reprinted elsewhere. Also Political Animal includes no images. But interestingly, when Washington Month publishes guest posts, they include a small caricature of the writer in the upper left hand corner of the article. I rather like this. One of my complaints about websites generally but blogs especially is the lack of author images. Readers like to have some idea of who they are dealing with. I don’t think I’m in the minority on this one.

The second kind of format is generally done by large publications. In these cases, the article starts with a headline, followed by a large image that has to be scrolled past to get to the content. A typical example of this can be found with New York Magazine. But sadly, this is also how Vox is displayed. This is a huge mistake. First, it requires that the reader click to the page and then scroll down just to figure out if they want to read the article. Second, the idea of images is to break up the page. Having a big image that simply pushes the entire text flow out of the way doesn’t do that. So the images get in the way at the same time that they don’t make the pages more pleasant to look at.

Big Picture: Never, Never Gonna Show You Content...

This brings us to the correct way to layout pages: my way. What’s strange is that not more people do it. My standard scheme is to put a single small (150×200 pixel) image in the upper left hand corner of the article. Sometimes it goes on the right. And sometimes I use a large image if I think it is important enough. But that is the exception. There are various things that this accomplishes. First, it shows rather clearly on the main page where the articles start. It also makes the page look nice and not so desperately dull. Think of it as the spice of the article. I also think it makes people more likely read the article because it gives them another reason to be interested in the subject.

I perhaps have a different outlook on the web than a lot of people. I set up one of the first websites in the world. And at that time, one of the very few things you could do was to include images on pages. So I’ve always seen it as a publishing platform. But it isn’t like a book. It is like a magazine. And it should appeal like a magazine. Just the same, I don’t claim to be any kind of a layout artist. And that’s kind of the point: if this stuff is obvious to me, what the hell is going on with professionals at popular sites?

Well, I think I know, actually. I think they are far more interested in maximizing the number of people who click on the ads they liter their pages with than they are with the content they are providing. Washington Monthly, for example, is more ads than content. Because of that site alone, I’ve turned off flash content on my pages. And the site still annoys me.

There are many other problems with the way that webpages are displayed. Many of them have been eliminated by blogging software. For example, you just don’t see blog themes that have virtually unreadable text scrolling all the way across the screen. Just the same, the blogs have also created a great deal of monotony. Right now on Frankly Curious, I’m rather unhappy with the excessive amount of white space. This is something that seems especially typical of WordPress. And every time I look at this blog, I think, “That’s so 2009!” Just the same, it isn’t terrible. But I don’t want to be saying that in 2019.

What I think goes on with most blogs is that people don’t have all that much time to devote to them. What’s more, they aren’t that technically savvy and so once they get something that doesn’t totally suck, they stick with it. Also, the blogs really do limit you. I’ve only been using my current theme for a month or two, but I know that I can never upgrade it. I’ve gone in and hacked the code to make it do things it was never meant to do. So I don’t blame people for playing it safe. And I never complain that a lone blogger isn’t dazzling me with graphics. But the professionals really are to blame for not only leaving me flat with their designs, but getting in the way of my consuming their content.

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