Recycled Genius

RecycleThe Democrats have put up a website, gopHarmony. It's pretty funny.

"The man who comes into New York with plenty of money sees one New York. The man who comes with a dollar and a half, and goes to a twenty-five-cent lodging house, sees another. There are also fifteen-cent lodging houses, and people too poor even to go to them... That 'one-half of the world does not know how the other half live' is much more true of the upper than the lower half. Social suffering is for the most part mute. The well-dressed take the main street, but the ragged slink into the by-ways." —Henry George

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Offensive Randy Newman

Randy NewmanWill pointed out that I hadn't done a week of Randy Newman. And given that we was a very big part of my life at one time, I thought this would be a good thing. But I figured that I would constrain the choices by only doing offensive Randy Newman songs. Now don't be smart! I know that leaves a lot of choices, but it certainly isn't the case that most of his songs are offensive.

In fact, off his first album, Randy Newman, there isn't a lot of offensive material. But there is a classic of Newman's own brand of offensiveness: "Davy the Fat Boy." It starts with the singer talking about how he's been friends with Davy since they were very young. And Davy's parents told the singer to take care of Davy after they go. So what does the singer do? He turns Davy into a carnival freak.

Randy Newman World

It's really horrible. But it is typical of Randy Newman's wit. The universe of his songs is not a pleasant one. People are cruel to each other. The best you can hope for in Newman's world is a small amount of pity and the recognition that we are all damned.

Consider the song "Old Man" off his later album, Sail Away. It is a tender goodbye to an old man who is dying — I assume his father. But it is thoroughly mocking. Newman will not allow the old man any of the standard illusions that people use at that time. The only thing that makes the song not completely horrific is the understanding that the singer will face exactly the same thing soon enough.

"Davy the Fat Boy" works on a whole other level. Maybe it is the case that the singer is doing right by Davy. If there weren't a good deal vagueness, it wouldn't be a Randy Newman song.

On the other hand, if you want to get an idea of the sadness that underlies everything Newman did, you can listen to I Think It's Going To Rain Today.

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Anniversary Post: Mathew Brady's James Polk Photo

James Polk by Mathew BradySupposedly, on this day in 1849, James Polk became the first sitting president to have his photograph taken. It's that one over there on the left and it was taken by the 27 year old Mathew Brady. I'll talk about it in a moment.

Polk was a very effective president. But he was also a slave owner and what I would call pragmatically pro-slavery. He seems to have been aware that the slavery advocates were just piling up sandbags to keep out the rising waters. It was all doomed to failure, but there was Polk filling the bags and stacking them.

I have this problem. When slavery was based upon losing wars, and being a slave meant bad luck, I can see people supporting it. But slavery in America is a different matter. I don't care how far back you go, there really was never a time when it was acceptable to be in favor of it. But Polk was pro-slavery long after any apologetics can be applied.

Of course, I don't think much different about the titans of industry today. These are all people who are in the business of dehumanization. When you get right down to, the basis of conservatism is that there isn't such a thing as human dignity. Any dignity that humans have is contingent. In the past, it was based on birth. Now it is based upon wealth, which just so happens to be mostly based on birth. Clearly it is different from slavery, but it is a similar system of control.

Mathew Brady

Mathew BradyThat photograph was taken by Mathew Brady — an early American photographer. And Polk was not the first president he photographed. He had photographed both John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson sortly before their deaths. And boy oh boy did Jackson look bad! But James Polk was the first sitting president. Interestingly, just a few months later, Polk was dead too. If I had lived at that time, I would have been suspicious of the young Mr Brady.

Mathew Brady is very well known for his photographs of the Civil War. He spent $100,000 taking 10,000 photographs of the war. He had expected that the government would pay him for the photos. Perhaps if Lincoln had not been assassinated, they would have. But instead, he was left holding all that debt and all those pictures of an event no one was keen on remembering. Like many great artists who are celebrated long after it does them any good, he died in 1896 at the age of 73, penniless in a charity hospital.

Yay capitalism!

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What Scalia's Death Means for His Replacement

Antonin Scalia - Nazi OfficerJustice Antonin Scalia was found dead at a resort in Texas this morning. I assume it was a heart attack. He was 79 and he never looked particularly healthy to me. It's obviously a personal tragedy for those who knew and loved him. I'm not one of them. To me, he was just a really powerful man who did great damage to our country. Not that he was always wrong, but his ideology affected his rulings in a more grand way than most recent judges. And the last several years he wasn't making a lot of sense — on or off the bench.

My concern is his replacement. Because other than raising Scalia from the dead and nominating that zombie to the Supreme Court, I don't see the Republican controlled Senate allowing Obama to appoint anyone at all. And you know Obama: he's never been one to nominate liberals to the Court. As I've noted many times, the Court used to have 5 conservatives, 3 moderates, and 1 liberal. Now it has only 4 conservatives. The Republicans will try to stop any replacement, hoping that they control the White House starting next year.

Think about the history here. Obama got to replace two liberalish justices with two moderate ones. And even that was treated by the Republicans as though he were staging a violent coup. The idea that Obama will get to replace a conservative firebrand like Scalia will be seen as totally unacceptable. And so they will try to avoid doing anything at all.

Republican's Dangerous Moment Regarding Scalia

But here's the interesting thing: this is a very dangerous game for them. If they allow Obama to put another moderate on the bench, they might be lucky. If Clinton is the next president, she will almost certainly have a majority in the Senate. And if necessary, the Democrats will be able to abolish the filibuster altogether, and allow Clinton to put the first truly liberal judge on the bench since her husband was in office. Do they really want to take that chance?

Well, the answer is clear: yes. They will definitely take that chance, because the Republicans are the "all or nothing" party. I look back with great glee to when, after winning re-election, Obama told Boehner, "You should have taken the deal I offered you back then." That was the deal where Boehner claimed to get 98% of what he wanted and still turned it down. But this does make it all the more important that the Democrats win the presidency this year.

Think about this: with another moderate on the bench, the Court could hear another case that would allow it to reverse Citizens United. We would back away from the coming reverse on Roe v Wade. Scalia's death could hearken much better times for millions of people in the United States. On the other hand, what is the worse case scenario? The Republicans don't allow Obama appoint a new judge, and we get someone just as bad as Scalia. So this is a very hopeful day for liberals and a terrible day for conservatives.


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Social Security and the Elite Attacks on It

Elderly MenMichael Hiltzik brought my attention to something interesting, The Conservative Case Against Expanding Social Security? It Was Based on a Math Error. In December, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report that cheered conservatives. It stated that people on Social Security would end up making a lot more than was thought in retirement compared to the what they made at the end of their careers. Here's Hiltzik, "To take just one example, the CBO reported in December that for the average retiree born in the 1940s, Social Security benefits would replace a healthy 60% of average late-career earnings. The new figure is only 43%."

I probably didn't notice the release of the original report because the Social Security argument that we get from conservatives is disingenuous. It doesn't matter what the issue is, they will find a reason as to why it proves that we must cut benefits. Dean Baker and Mark Weisbrot wrote Social Security: The Phony Crisis over 16 years ago. But it could have been written today. The arguments they counter have not changed at all. So it is not at all surprising that conservatives took the fact that seniors would be "living it up" with a full 60% of their incomes while they were working.

The truth is that they might as well make the same argument using the 43% number. Hiltzik noted, "Personal finance experts generally say that it takes 70% of one's working income to maintain a lifestyle in retirement." And that tidbit comes from conservative Andrew Biggs, who was making the argument that 60% was excessively generous. So it really doesn't matter: conservatives think what conservatives think; damn the facts!

But the really interesting thing is that Biggs wrote three articles on this subject recently. Two he has retracted because they were based on the CBO error. But one, he is not retracting because it didn't use the CBO data. You see, Biggs has his own calculation that show that the CBO's first estimate actually was the right one. That's because there will literally never be any evidence that suggests that we are being stingy to our elderly population, because the conservative belief is that we shouldn't do anything for seniors. They should just have really great investments like I'm sure Andrew Biggs has.

Social Security Attacks Get Worse As Need Increases

As the decades have passed, the conservative idea that people can plan for their own retirement has gotten worse and worse. And the reason for that is mostly because we've allowed businesses to do just what they want. So wages have stagnated. And benefits, in as much as people have them, have transferred from pensions to defined contribution plans, which have been a complete failure. Yet as workers' other options erode, these conservatives want to destroy the fallback: Social Security.

Most people understand racism. When people are segregated, it is easy to vilify or discount "those people." But it isn't as well understood when it comes to economics. Those who write about economics are pretty far removed from the lives of the poor. We see this all the time with people like David Brooks who thinks that if the poor would just act more like the middle class their economic fortunes would improve. Sorry, but that ain't the case and the only kind of people who make that case are people who start at the conclusion.

What's more, the middle class is not doing very well in case this fact somehow slipped by. But it's all part of the larger system: taking from the poor and giving to the rich. When people talk about means testing Social Security (as Biggs does), they don't care about the money it would save the program, because it wouldn't save much. They are just trying to head off an actually helpful solution like increasing the payroll tax cap. So again: the assault on Social Security benefits is, as always, just a fight to keep the taxes of the rich low.

Update (12 February 2016 8:14 am)

Dean Baker noted that this is not the first time that the CBO just happened to make mistakes that helped conservatives, Strike Three for the Congressional Budget Office? Social Security Retirement Income Projections.


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Les Six as an Analog for 20th Century Classical

Les SixWe've had our week of Les Six. It's too bad that it wasn't Les Sept, because I have an extra day. I could bring it all together and present L'Album des Six. Unfortunately, it is not available online. And it's all piano works, and I like a little variety. So I've put together a little YouTube playlist of particularly wonderful pieces.

We started with Francis Poulenc and listened to some music from his ballet, Les Biches. Although Poulenc was by far the youngest of Les Six, he was also my first introduction to it. So it seemed as good a place to start as any. Today, we listen to his Sonata for Oboe and Piano.

Next, we listened to Germaine Tailleferre. She was the only woman of the group, and technically perhaps the greatest. We listened to a lovely piece from late in her career, Concertino for Flute, Piano and String Orchestra. But she is especially known for her work for the harp. I didn't bother with it, because I'm not that fond of the harp. But today, we have her 1957 Sonata for Harp. It's great.

On Tuesday, we featured the first of our Les Six film composers, Georges Auric. A very eclectic composer, we listened to Ouverture, per Orchestra where he shows that off — sometimes phrase by phrase! But let's go way out and listen to a song that was made famous in the John Huston classic, Moulin Rouge. The original name of the song is "Le Long de la Seine." Don't you at least want to check and see what song it is?

Next, we got our second film composer, Arthur Honegger. We listened to his Pacific 231. I said that his work was probably the most difficult of Les Six composers. But then again, it might just be me. Today, we listen to Pastorale d'été, and it is hard to call it "difficult."

On Thursday, we featured Darius Milhaud. He is sadly under-performed. At this point, he is probably my favorite of Les Six. But it's hard to say because I like them all so much. We listened to his, Suite for Clarinet, Violin and Piano, probably because it was the day of my first clarinet lesson. Can you stand any more clarinet? His Scaramouche for Clarinet and Piano is irresistible.

And finally, Louis Durey. He lived into his 90s, but I feel sorry for him. He had something of a difficult life financially. In the 1950s, he was so desperate for cash that he became a music critic. And by his death, he was all but forgotten. But that makes him no less great. Yesterday, we listened to Trio per Oboe Clarinetto e Fagotto. Today, we listen to another wonderful piece, Tres Anime.

Les Six

Having spent a week with Les Six, it now occurs to me that it is a great introduction to 20th century music. Because after you get to Stravinsky, the whole idea of periods begins to break apart. The 20th century was an amazingly eclectic period. Now it is possible to find an audience for whatever you want to do — assuming you have some talent and much luck. So the fact that six quite different composers were tossed together as a single thing makes them a good way to think about classical music from that period onward.

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Anniversary Post: La Citoyenne and Hubertine Auclert

Hubertine AuclertOn this day in 1881, the first issue of La Citoyenne was published. It was a bi-monthly feminist newspaper published by Hubertine Auclert. It ran for ten years until Auclert couldn't afford to publish it anymore. The struggle for women's rights has been a long one in France. The first signs of it appeared during the French Revolution. But Rousseau so dominated the thinking of that time that no one took it seriously.

Let me make a quick diversion. Conservatives so often say things to me like, "Of Course it was wrong to X, but that's all solved now and there is no need to do Y." This annoys me. I'm kinda sorta okay with conservatives being awful. But I'm not okay with them claiming ownership of things in the past that they would have been totally against! Every conservative I ever talk to thinks it's obvious that women should be able to manage their own finances and stand for election or vote. They just don't see any of the problems today. They see the demands today as unreasonable. Just like the conservatives of 1881 found these now "obvious" rights unreasonable.

Hubertine Auclert

Hubertine Auclert was a major figure in French struggle for women's equality. And part of that was moving to Algeria in 1888. What is it about Algeria and feminism? I wrote about Isabelle Eberhardt before. But it seems to come down to what Hubertine Auclert noticed when she was there: that the way the French authorities treated the Algerians was the same way that they treated women back in France.

Of course, it wasn't just that. It was also the case that the French government colluded with Arab males to suppress the education of women, and generally push a conservative approach to Islam. It's interesting how common this kind of thing is and how those who supported regressive beliefs are just shocked when it ends up harming themselves.

Of course, Hubertine Auclert did not live to see French women get the right to vote. She would have had to live into her late 90s for that. Women didn't get the right to vote in France until 1944. And this is especially embarrassing, it was under the Provisional Government of the French Republic. You know: the temporary one they set up after the Allies pushed the Germans out?! Pathetic. But Auclert did live long enough to see married women get the rights to their own paychecks. So there's that.

After La Citoyenne, it was quickly replaced by Le Journal des femmes. And then in 1897, La Fronde was started — the first French feminist daily, written and edited entirely by women.


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Why So Many Conservative Game Show Hosts?

Alex Trebek - Conservative Game Show HostsI was talking to Will the other day, and he mentioned that Jeopardy! host Alex Trebek was a conservative. I didn't know that, but it didn't surprise me. I've noticed a few things about him. One is that he seems to have no sense of the humiliation that players feel when they aren't doing well. He clearly and (as the supposed neutral host) unfairly shows an eagerness to see the current champion win. And most of all, his sexism shines through. That's particularly telling, because you would think that for the good of the show, more female winners would be good.

But I've noticed in the past that there really are a lot of conservative game show hosts, in as much as we can tell. The most obvious example is Pat Sajak, who is a far right climate change denier. I've often wondered why this is, so I went looking and came upon a reprint of an article written by Rebecca Dana back in 2010, Why Game-Show Hosts Vote Republican. It unfortunately doesn't provide a lot of answers as to why there are so many conservative game show hosts. It's probably because it is an obscure issue and there aren't a bunch of experts on game shows, much less the political leanings of their hosts.

But she does discuss the matter with game show expert, Olaf Hoerschelmann. He provided two quotes that are worth thinking about:

  1. "To have the right sensibility to be a game-show host, you do have to have a belief in rugged individualism — either you make it or you're not worth it."
  2. "Generally the ideology of acquiring money and achieving fortune through luck goes along pretty well with a certain basic capitalist attitude."

I think there is a lot to the first quote. In a world where nothing is clear — where it is all shades of grey — it probably is very attractive to conservatives to have something like a game where there is a clear winner. I, of course, hate this kind of thing. Even at my most fanatical as a chess player, it was never about winning — it was about the process, the creativity, and personal betterment. But for most chess players, winning is all that matters, which is why I didn't really continue on in the game after I had reached a level where I thought I really understood it.

Hoerschelmann's second quote is much more interesting. That's the thing about most game shows: the prizes are not at all fairly distributed. If the top player on Jeopardy! ends with $15,000 and the next player ends with $14,999, that second player goes home with the standard second place prize: $2,000. Now, you could say that the winner is playing by the rules and would have bet more if the spoils were more evenly shared. Exactly! And if that were the case, Jeopardy! would be a more interesting game. Instead, "Final Jeopardy" is as likely as not to be non-competitive and boring. We might ask why the game is set up that way. And maybe it is as simple as the fact that it was created by Merv Griffin — another conservative.

My Ideas on Conservative Game Show Hosts

But I have another idea why there tend to be a lot of conservative game show hosts. It isn't a job that takes much talent. That means, it is more likely to go to someone who is good at working the system — schmoozing with the executives. I have been watching Chuck Woolery since I was ten years old — over 40 years! And I see absolutely nothing that distinguishes him from just about every other game show host.

We can also just deconstruct it. Game show hosts are generally male and rich. Both of those select for conservatism. That doesn't apply to actors, because that's an actual creative activity that draws in liberal minded people. But men who are paid a lot of money to do things that aren't hard: nine out of ten times, that man is going to be a conservative. And that means a lot of conservative game show hosts.


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Paul Krugman: Protector of FOMC Independence, Destroyer of Bernie Sanders

Federal Reserve - FOMCOn Friday, Paul Krugman wrote, On Economic Stupidity. It's nominally about the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee (FOMC) and its independence. The Republicans really have shown a desire to destroy it since a Democrat has been in the White House. But while his attack on Republican economic stupidity is to the point, it is perfunctory. Yes, we know the Republicans are really bad. But let's not forget who the real enemy is: Bernie Sanders. You see, Sanders voted for a bill that would make the Federal Reserve reveal the beneficiaries of its "special lending." Clinton didn't do this, which is a Very Good Thing. Krugman really should just put up a Hillary Clinton 2016 sign on his lawn and be done with it.

Dean Baker sees things a bit differently, but then, he has yet to show himself in the can for one candidate or another. He wrote, Paul Krugman, Bernie Sanders, and the Fed. And he made two points. First, he questions Krugman's assumption (Lots of Krugman unstated assumptions these days!) that what Sanders did was wrong, "To my view, Sanders should be applauded for his actions on this front. It was a bipartisan effort that gave us more information about what went on in the crisis and the extent to which specific banks benefited from access to the Fed’s money."

The FOMC Is Political

The second point is more interesting. The FOMC is made up of 12 members: 7 appointed by the government and 5 effectively appointed by the big banks. Right now, because of Republican blocking, there are only 5 government appointees, so it is an even split with a 10 member board. So the banks have undue influence, and the Republicans are able to give them even more influence.

Krugman is falling into a trap that he has spotted many times in others over the years. He has written a great deal about how the great "centrist" pundits claim that they have no ideology, when in fact they very much do.

Baker suggests we think about putting together a more diverse group on the FOMC, which includes labor unions, community groups, nonprofits. This might make the Fed more focused on full employment rather than its laser focus on low inflation. True, that would make the Fed a more political institution, but anyone who claims that the Fed is not a political institution is either naive or ignorant.

But Krugman is falling into a trap that he has spotted many times in others over the years. He has written a great deal about how the great "centrist" pundits claim that they have no ideology, when in fact they very much do. I want to be clear: everyone has an ideology. All Krugman is saying here is that he agrees with leaving the system the way it is. And indeed, it has worked well for him. People in the upper parts of the economy have done very well by the Fed because it really has done a great job of keeping the economy stable.

But if you are in the lower part of the economy, you have seen the down side of that stability: difficulty finding work, and low and stagnant wages when you do. But even Krugman admits that the bankers have too much clout at the FOMC. In a blog post following up on his column, he makes the case that the real problem is that people who hang out together tend to think alike, and that the problem isn't "crude corruption." I agree. But somehow, Krugman seems to think this works in Clinton's favor too.

I'll admit, Sanders has done a bad job of explaining this. I certainly don't think that Clinton was "bought" by Goldman Sachs. Rather, she is of a type. Would she be in favor of changing the makeup of the FOMC? I don't think so. Does that matter? Well, Paul Krugman certainly doesn't think so. But that may just be because he is so laser focused on the true enemy in 2016: Bernie Sanders.


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Morning Music: Louis Durey

Louis DureyLouis Durey is the least know member of Les Six. That's no accident. He doesn't seem to have wanted to be part of it. He was friends with Francis Poulenc. But even in the famous Jacques-Émile Blanche painting of the group, he is far in the back, looking away. Is he conducting? I don't know. But although he participated in the 1920 Les Six collaboration, he refused to be part of the 1921 collaboration. Around that time, he left Paris and didn't return for decades to come.

He's a very interesting composer. He's the only one of them who had clearly been influenced by Arnold Schoenberg. And he is a composer one does not associate with Les Six. But the thing about 12-tone composition is that it really can be just about anything the composer wants it to be. I have heard 12 tone pieces that sounded more or less tonal and others that sounded like noise. And I have never heard any of Louis Durey's 12 tone work. But in his later work, I think I can hear some of that influence.

Louis Durey was self-taught. He didn't even decide to pursue music until he was almost 20. But that may explain why, even though he was the oldest of Les Six, his is the most avant garde. At the same time, great care is taken in his music. And it is very often quite lyrical. That's definitely the case with Sonatine for Flute and Piano, but I can't find an acceptable recording of it. So instead, I'm going to share with you something reasonably similar, Trio per Oboe Clarinetto e Fagotto.

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Anniversary Post: Émile Henry's Bourgeois Attack

Émile Henry's AttackOn this day in 1894, the anarchist Émile Henry threw a bomb into the Café Terminus, killing one and injuring 20 more. At his trial, he was asked why he killed so many innocent people. He apparently replied, "There are no innocent bourgeois." I think that's a fascinating answer.

I don't believe in violence. It is one of those things that almost always seems like a good idea before, and a bad idea after. It really doesn't matter what it is. People always grab onto World War II. But the reasons we have for justifying it were not the reasons we got into it. But I'll grant that there are times when violence does some good. But it is so rare that it isn't much worth thinking about.

But Émile Henry's retort speaks to me. I don't say that as an outsider but very much as an insider. Mostly, I don't see myself as directly complicit in the evils of the world. But there is no doubt that the quality of my life is improved by the system of oppression. It isn't something I wallow in, because it's bad enough to benefit from it, but it's worse for the world to be polluted by my polite guilt.

If I had real strength in my beliefs, I could go off to some remote place and become a subsistence farmer. But I freak out when a spider crawls on my desk. I'm not the kind of man who is capable of making bold gestures. Of course, we could say the same thing of Émile Henry. He was born into an upper class (albeit a radical) household. It's a curious way to deal with your own privilege: by killing others in your class. It strikes me as a selfish act. If he were alive today, Émile Henry would probably be a libertarian and claim to be freeing the poor by cutting the taxes on the rich.

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Is It Time to Say Goodbye to "Literally"?

Not LiterallyThe word "literally" is most troubling to me. And I believe it may be time us to bid it a fond farewell.

I am something of a connoisseur of grammar snobbery. I hate grammar snobs, but it is fun to keep note of what little things drive them crazy. A friend of mine recently used the word "principal" in an email where he meant "principle." I saw no reason to alert him to the error, because I'm sure he does know the difference. I make these kind of mistakes all the time myself. I constantly find myself typing "their" when I mean "there." And even more bizarre, "their are" when I mean "they're."

Such errors can indicate ignorance, but they almost never do. I went through a short period where I repeatedly spelled "thone" as "thrown." A reader kindly alerted me. But it wasn't that I didn't know how to spell the word. It's just that I use the word "thrown" all the time and "throne" almost never. And I literally didn't even think about it. But had George RR Martin put out a book called A Game of Throwns, my mind would have gone on tilt.


One of the greatest of the pedant's concerns is the word "literally" when it is used to mean "not literally." For example, "His suitcase literally weighed a ton." Unless we are talking about some curious event out of a Discworld, that suitcase did not weight a literal ton. The speaker means to say that the suitcase was really heavy. More to the point, "His suitcase figuratively weighed a ton." But that there is a sentence that no one could love.

For a long time, as a writer, I've been very careful with the word. I try only to use it in its old sense. But now I think it is best to get rid of it.

The problem for the grammar pedant is that the dictionary definition of "literally" does, in fact, include the meaning, "not literally; figuratively." Now I know what the pedants answer back with when this is pointed out, "Just because something has been done wrong a long time doesn't make it right!" But they are wrong. Just look at our language! It is mostly a collection of things done wrong for a long time. That's what languages are — unless they are Esperanto. Really! You think Latin is perfect. Ha!

I've written about this subject before, Why "Literally" Normally Means "Not Literally." So it might seem strange that I'm bringing it up again. But I was reading an article by Brian Beutler Saturday morning, Will Marco Rubio Finally Be Tested? And in that article, he wrote the dastardly sentence, "Over the past several months, Rubio has: introduced a tax plan that literally zeroes out investment and inheritance taxes..."

Beutler is a good writer and what he means is that Rubio introduced a tax plan that in fact cuts these taxes to zero. In other words, he used "literally" to mean, well, "literally." But I still had to take a moment and think, "Does he mean literally literally or figuratively literally?" This is not his fault! But the word has become poisoned to such an extent, that my assumption is that the writer means "figuratively." And that's bad news for the "correct" use of the word.

For a long time, as a writer, I've been very careful with the word. I try only to use it in its old sense. But now I think it is best to get rid of it. It's just one more intensifier in a language that is quickly becoming nothing but. What are we to do? It's just confusing at this point, and I doubt very seriously that the old definition will last the century.

There's another problem with the word anyway: it isn't necessary. Beutler could have written, "Over the past several months, Rubio has: introduced a tax plan that zeroes out investment and inheritance taxes..." No need for "literally." Just the same, so much of writing is not strictly necessary. In that sentence, Beutler was using the word as an intensifier — to drive home the extreme nature of what Rubio is proposing. But there are other ways to do that. I think "amazingly" and "unbelievably" would work better.

So maybe we can all get by without our little friend "literally." I'm going to try.


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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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