Two Songs and Counting

A very creative young man named Jonathan Mann started a project of writing a song every day for a year. This was some time ago now, and I don’t think he has stopped. (You’ll have to look him up—I’m not that interested in his work.) He goes by the name Rock Cookie Bottom (he has a song about that, of course—I think it may be some reference to the song Big Rock Candy Mountain) and his most famous song is one written about the great economist and New York Times Columnist Paul Krugman:

Now I find that Loudon Wainwright III also has written a song about Krugman:

It is interesting that they seem to have been written right around the same time. Mann posted his on 17 March 2009 and Wainwright’s live performance of his song was put on YouTube on 22 June 2009 (although the performance was on 17 June). It is cool that Paul Krugman has become such a big pop cultural reference that people are writing songs about him. Imagine people writing songs about Gary Taylor or Denys Turner? But when I heard the Mann’s song, I thought, “Why didn’t I think of that!”

15 November 2013: Removed embedded video of Krugman that went missing.

Politics: Religiously Evil

Franklin Graham is an Idiot

This is interesting. The only reason that his father wasn’t such an embarrassment was that his father didn’t talk so much. What evil men—both.

Late Breaking News from Mark

17 Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”
18 So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.
19 “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.'”
20 And he answered and said to Him, “Teacher, all these things I have kept from my youth.”
21 Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”
22 But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
23 Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!”
24 And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God!
25 “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Hamlet is an Asshole

When Rosencrantz and Guildenstern first meet Hamlet in his eponymous play, he says with great delight, “My excellent good friends! How dost thou, / Guildenstern? Ah, Rosencrantz! Good lads, / how do ye both?” Apart from the opening line (My excellent good friends!) this does not strike me as wonderful poetry, but I am no Shakespearean scholar. Nevertheless, I can certainly tell that this is rubbish compared to the opening of Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York; / And all the clouds that lour’d upon our house / In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.” [1] It is even rubbish compared to other parts of Hamlet—soon after these lines, he writes some of his most beautiful verse, “What a piece of work is a man! / How noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, / in form and moving how express and admirable, / in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like / a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! / And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? Man / delights not me.” But the point is not that the lines that Hamlet greets Rosencrantz and Guildenstern with are bad. The point is that there is no hint of irony.[2] Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are childhood friends, and while Hamlet may not, at that moment, delight in “man,” he most clearly does delight in seeing his old friends.

As we all know, the King gives Rosencrantz and Guildenstern a sealed royal document to give to the King of England when they go there with Hamlet. Hamlet, however, in a typically ridiculous Shakespearean plot twist, escapes from the trip by bribing some pirates, but not before stealing the document and replacing it with a facsimle. He had found out that the letter said that the King of England should kill Hamlet. In response, Hamlet wrote a letter telling the King of England to kill Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. He explains this to Horatio in Act 5, Scene 2: “An earnest conjuration from the king, / As England was his faithful tributary, / As love between them like the palm might flourish, / As peace should still her wheaten garland wear / And stand a comma ‘tween their amities, / many such-like ‘As’es of great charge, / That, on the view and knowing of these contents, / Without debatement further, more or less, / He should the bearers put to sudden death, / Not shriving-time allow’d.”

If Rosencrantz and Guildenstern knew what the letter said (or even had some idea), Hamlet might be forgiving for acting as he did. But we know that these two men were completely honest. First, there is no indication in the play that they knew the letter to the King of England commanded him to kill Hamlet. Second, if they had know, they certainly wouldn’t have delivered the letter to the King after Hamlet ran away. So Hamlet had absolutely no cause for killing his “Excellent good friends!” Instead, he could have simply destroyed the letter or replaced it with one that requested something benign. But he instead choose to have his friends killed—successfully we learn at the end of Act 5, Scene 2 when the English Ambassador arrives to announces, “The sight is dismal; / And our affairs from England come too late: / The ears are senseless that should give us hearing, / To tell him his commandment is fulfill’d, / That Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead: / Where should we have our thanks?”

Thus, I say: Hamlet was not a hero; Hamlet was not an anti-hero; Hamlet was an asshole.[3]

[1] Kenneth Branagh (and I mean this literally) is the best Shakespearean actor who ever existed. Shakespeare does not deserve him. Listen to him perform this speech in the “video” below:

[2] In Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 film, Hamlet’s reading of these lines is not so clear. Branagh speaks them with some suspicion. However, his suspicion seems to dissipate after Gildenstern admits, “My lord, we were sent for.” This reading by Reece Dinsdale as Gildenstern is the best I have seen, and it dispels any indication that Rosencrantz and Gildenstern mean any ill to Hamlet. It is Hamlet who mistreats them (and pretty much everyone else in the play, Ophelia most cruelly).

[3] Note also that when Hamlet traps the king using the players, they are forced to flee the castle for fear of their very lives. It is reasonable to assume that they were not paid for their performance either. Here is another example of Hamlet using innocents without a thought to the consequences on them.

My Own Private Ballykissangel

I was at the bank yesterday, and Juan, who has remembered my name from the day I met him (although it took him two days of reminding that he must call me “Frank” and not “Mr. Moraes”) asked me, “Do you have any plans for Easter?”

“Is it this Sunday?” I asked like the stupidest man alive given that the bank was overflowing with jelly beans and colored eggs. He gave me the kind smile of a gentle soul who is used to dealing with complete idiots.

Later the same day, I was back at the bank and Juan was gone, but another teller was there and the moment I entered, he called out to me, “Hi Frank!” It speaks ill of me that I don’t remember the name of this teller—especially after this “Norm” moment. I have an interesting relationship with him, because when he first started working at the bank, he didn’t seem to like me, and there is nothing I dislike more than people who dislike me. In retrospect, I think it was just that he was new and insecure and probably thought that being too friendly would get him in trouble. Now I find him one of the most pleasant young people I know.

There are two female tellers who I have similarly good relationships with. Again, I don’t remember their names because I’m a bad person. Also, there is an assistant manager sort of person who I got on wonderfully with, but who has left. Just yesterday, I met her replacement and she seems very nice. And then there is the bank manager himself, who doesn’t seem to know me, but who is nice enough to answer questions that have nothing to do with his job, like, “What ever happened to the $500 and $1000 bills? Why don’t they have them any more?”

This is all a very sad story: nowhere on earth am I made to feel more welcome than at my local US Bank branch. Of course, this does not mean I am most at ease there. I am most in my element at the Northwest Branch of the Sonoma County Library. If I died, I would want my ashes spread there. But only Susan (yes, I learned her name) at my local branch gives me the Norm treatment, by saying, “Hello Frank”—like a good public intellectual, however, she isn’t alluding to Cheers, but Educating Rita. (The allusion may be more fitting than she realizes!) And I will point out that as much as I like the other librarians, it is because of Susan that I give roughly $50 per year to Friends of the Library. (Actually, $1000 per year would be much closer to what I get from the library, but I figure I am doing okay and if my finances ever get more stable, I will give more.)

So the two places I have a true sense of community is at my bank and my library (and with my family, but that is something entirely different). It does seem sad, and yet, I know my bank tellers and librarians don’t have to be as sociable as they are with me. They seem to be genuinely interested in me and the other people they serve. It is as though we are all looking for our own Ballykissangel: a place where we have a place, and a place where we are (for good or bad) individuals. And though we will probably never find a Ballykissangel in the real world, we create it in a virtual sense with a smile, a wave, and the occasional, “Hello Frank!”

Politics: Thaddeus McCotter Can Play

The Man Can Play!

Conservative U.S. Representative Thaddeus McCotter recently did a video interview during which he is playing what looks like an American flag-painted Telecaster. Rachael Maddow has some fun with it, titling the segment, “This is the Worst Music Video I’ve Ever Seen.” I like Maddow a lot and I think McCotter is a proto-facist. Having said that, clearly being a proto-facist does not mean that you can’t play. The man is good. The world would be a better place if he stopped representing Michigan and spent his time on stage wailing: blow big man!

Politics: Any Film with Keenan Wynn…

Paul Krugman writes, “There Are No TV Series About Heroic Economists… But there was a so-bad-it-was-good movie about a villainous, murderous chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers.” He then provides the trailer for The Internecine Project. “So-bad-it-was-good”? Well, you know how much I hate that kind of talk so felt I had to slap back, but I’m not sure if the blog took my comment, so here it is:

Come on Krugman! Not every film with Keenan Wynn is bad! As a matter of fact, I’d say any film with him at least rises to the level of watchable—even Laserblast. You are a great man (really), but you are no film critic. And while I’m on the subject of pop art, why is it that you seem to only like the very worst Talking Heads songs? Do you mean to say that Crosseyed And Painless or Psycho Killer couldn’t be used to make points about the healthcare debate, Republicans in general, and Glenn Beck in particular?!

Politics: 20 April 2011


Paul Krugman makes an excellent point on his blog today:

One thing I guarantee you: if John McCain were living in the White House, these same people would have lots of good things to say about the stimulative effects of deficits in a depressed economy.

I know it’s an excellent point, because I’ve been making the same point for some time—particularly about healthcare. Note that “Obamacare” is exactly what John McCain campaigned on. Had he become president, I’m sure that we would have got the same plan. The only difference would have been that conservatives would have embraced it. It would not have been a major battle to get it passed. And the reason is clear: authoritarians (thank you John Dean) don’t stand for anything but standing in line: “for us and against them”—regardless of what “they” stand for.

How Do I Like Obama Now?

The last week I feel pretty damned good about him.

Grammar and Politics

One thing that I really hated about Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush was that they both spoke very poorly. On the other hand, I really like that Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are well-spoken. It matters to me that the president of the United States be able speak more or less correct English. It is bad when our school children see that the most powerful man in the world doesn’t even speak as well a local newscaster—a very low bar indeed. I don’t believe that any president in my lifetime has been stupid; I think that speaking poorly is a way for a president to say, “I’m not one of those elitist intellectuals.” And this is why I think we see this almost exclusively among Republican politicians. The Republican Party is an anti-intellectual party because it is so important for them to equate elitism with intelligence and knowledge rather than money and power—the attributes that truly make a person part of the elite. Thus, it came as no surprise to me when Donald Trump answered a question about why he illegally called his business school a university with, “We didn’t know there was any rules.” I don’t think that Trump is unaware that the correct construction is, “We didn’t know there were any rules.” Instead, I think it was a dog-whistle sentence. Without saying it, it told the intellectual-hating Republican Party base, “See! I’m not smart! I’m just like you!”

Happy Birthday!

One year since the spill and there is still plenty of oil floating in and around the gulf. And estimates are that there will be for the next ten years. Meanwhile, BP, Transocean, and Haliburton all had record profits the first quarter of this year. And Congress has not passed a single piece of legislation concerning deep-water oil drilling.

Box Office Poison at Mary’s Pizza Shack

Box Office PoisonYesterday while ingesting about a week’s worth of calories in pizza, beer, and brandy, I over-heard my waiter mention that he had a band. Given that he looked something of thirty years old, I figured his band might actually be interesting. (Yes, I am an ageist; other than chess players and Olympic gymnasts, I don’t think much of anything teenagers do.) His name was “J.D.” or—it seems—Josh Danger Clem and he informed me that the name of his band was Box Office Poison. That was a pretty clever name, I thought. Too clever it turned out. It took me a while to find JD’s band. It is not, for example, the more popular but far less interesting London based band.

Box Office Poison’s Facebook page contains five highly listenable songs. Clem told me that his band was post-punk but immediately took it back; artists never seem to be able to agree with themselves as to just exactly what they are. I wouldn’t necessarily call BOP post-punk myself. They do have wonderful rhythms that would make Gang of Four proud, but other than this, their sound is more retro and I am inclined to call them neo-punk, even if they have relatively broad influences. For example, they often sound like early Nirvana (Bleach, not Nevermind), but more they sound like Black Flag and the Ramones without the catchy hooks. In fact, if there is a problem with the band it is that the songwriting is just okay—kind of like what Mark Eitzel was doing on The Restless Stranger before he blew us away with everything from Engine on.

The musicianship on this collection is very good and the arrangements are first-rate—I’d like to see what a great producer could do with these guys. The recording is a little weak, but this may just be a result of the MP3 compression. In particular, there is some low frequency distortion that I found somewhat annoying. Overall, however, it was 15 minutes of very enjoyable music. I suspect that these guys kill live, so I’m going to try to find them. If I do, I will update here. In the mean time, give them a listen. And if enough of you do, maybe J.D. can stop waiting tables. (Of course, D. Boon never quit his day job!)

And yes, I tipped him very well.

Politics: 16 April 2011

My Taxes Are Too High!

I just wrote a check to the IRS for just under $2000 for my 2010 income taxes. This seems like a lot, when you consider that I only made about $20,000 last year. And that’s just the income taxes; I’m not talking about state and local taxes or payroll taxes or sales taxes (9.25% where I live). The great David Cay Johnston has written a wonderful article for Willamette Week called 9 Things the Rich Don’t Want You to Know About Taxes. You really should read it, but here is the list:

1. Poor Americans do pay taxes.
This is one of the most galling lies that I hear coming out of Faux News. It just isn’t true and no one can really think that it is. Does Gretchen Carlson really think that when a poor person buys a bottle of Windex at Safeway, the clerk doesn’t charge sales tax? Of course not. But then, I don’t need to remind any reasonable person that the people of Faux News are evil, stupid, dishonest or all of the above.
2. The wealthiest Americans don’t carry the burden.
If you make over $106,800 per year, you stop paying social security tax. By the way, getting rid of this limit is my preferred way to fix Social Security—even though there is really very little financial problem with the program anyway.
3. In fact, the wealthy are paying less taxes.
The median worker pays 23.4% of his income in taxes; the top 400 earners pay (Wait for it!) 18.7%. That’s 25% less than we working slobs.
4. Many of the very richest pay no current income taxes at all.
How can this be? Well, suppose you own a baseball team. You will only pay income tax on it if you sell it. So you don’t sell it. You borrow money against it (at ridiculously low interest rates) and thus you don’t have to pay any taxes. Just do this until you die.
5. And (surprise!) since Reagan, only the wealthy have gained significant income.
In the last 30 years, the median income in the US has stagnated. But the mean income has skyrocketed!
6. When it comes to corporations, the story is much the same—less taxes.
One word: loopholes.
7. Some corporate tax breaks destroy jobs.
You’ve got to read what Johnston has to say about this. Basically, low corporate tax rates increases unemployment. This may sound impossible, but it’s true.
8. Republicans like taxes too.
Say it ain’t so! But it’s true. It is just that they like to tax the poor.
9. Other countries do it better.
This is an excellent section where he points out that countries like Germany tax at a much higher level, but it is fairer and people actually get something for their taxes. Personally, I don’t like the fact that %20 of my tax dollars go to fighting wars I don’t believe in. It is also interesting that I am always hearing people complain that we give so much money to other countries in aid. We don’t. We give less than 3% of our budget in international aid, and most of that is prid pro quo. Almost all of our “aid” is in the form of bombs. Personally, I’d rather be alive and forsake that 20% “aid.”

But if you are too lazy to read the article, watch this clip of Chris Hayes hosting the Rachel Maddow show. It’s lots of fun.

Politics: 12 April 2011

I just wrote this letter to the president:

I am so disappointed with you, but I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. When I voted for you, I didn’t think that you were going to work miracles. However, I *did* think that you would stand up against the Republicans. Instead, you seem always to be giving into them–starting negotiations where they should end. This is well illustrated in the recent budget debate where the Republicans ended up with more than they originally asked for. At this point, I think that Hillary Clinton would have been better at dealing with the Republicans.

I am aware of your substantial accomplishments, and I am grateful for them, even if they are far less than our country needs.

At this point, unless you start being something more than just “not as bad as the Republicans,” or “Republican-light,” I will work to put together a primary challenger. If that doesn’t work, I might be forced to vote for a third party candidate.

I want to believe you. I want to back you. You have a year and a half to give me reason.

Thanks you.
Frank Moraes

Politics: 7 April 2011

Paul Krugman Looks Back

On his blog yesterday, Paul Krugman provides a list of things that politics pundits have been largely in agreement about.

George Bush is a nice, moderate guy, who will work in a bipartisan way.

George Bush is a heroic leader, who has risen to the occasion.

The case for invading Iraq is overwhelming; only a fool or a Frenchman could fail to be persuaded by Colin Powell.

John McCain is an independent-thinking maverick.

Paul Ryan is an honest, deeply serious thinker who really cares about the deficit.

The tax cut deal paved the way for a new phase of bipartisanship.

The Ryan plan sets a new standard of seriousness.

He claims to be puzzled at “the gullibility of so much of our pundit class.” But I don’t think he really is.