Liberal Talks to Conservative

This is nice to see: a liberal talk show host—Sam Seder—talking to a conservative caller. A couple of things I noticed. First, Seder is much nicer to the caller than conservative hosts are to the few liberal callers who make it past their screeners. Second, I love this entitled caller. He makes a quarter million dollars a year, but the idea that he would be taxed is tyranny; tyranny I tell you! People like this never understand how lucky they are. Plus, the guy doesn’t sound that smart. Which is as typical of the rich as the poor. And that just proves the point.

Update (23 November 2012 11:34 am)

The caller claims that taxes going to the Iraq War are just paying for national security. This is typical of conservatives to see national security as solely a matter of wars. The truth is that income inequality is a major national security issue. If large parts of the society are not able to get by, they will revolt, which is a much more serious security threat than Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. The main thing is that the caller is just an asshole. His statement about how hard he’s worked is laughable. If you are making that kind of money, you probably spend your time behind a desk. Waiters and janitors work a whole lot harder for a fraction of the pay.

The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure

The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon AdventureHave you heard about The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure? It is a feature film produced for toddlers. But the reason people are talking about it is that after $20 million in production and $40 million in marketing, Oogieloves had the worst opening weekend in film history—making less than a half million dollars on over 2000 screens.

Grady Smith was on On the Media today. That’s how I learned about the film that opened at the end of August. He seems to be confused about the movie. On the one hand, as a writer for Entertainment Weekly, he’s only supposed to care about how much a film makes. On the other hand, a film with this kind of dismal performance has got to be “interesting.” We’re talking about Ed Wood territory here!

He even admits to this. In his second article about the film in Entertainment Weekly, he admitted that he hadn’t seen the film. “But I sort of want to. Somehow, the film earning that dubious distinction has unleashed an alarming obsession within me for all things Oogieloves in the last 24 hours.”

By the time he was interviewed by On the Media, he had seen the film:

It is so many levels higher on the demented scale than I could have imagined. There is this pillow that only speaks in his own pillow dialect, there are magical balloons, there is a vacuum cleaner named J. Edgar. It is so colorful and the songs are so weird and you are forced to say “Goofy Toofie, pick you your pants!” a myriad of times. I wasn’t ever expecting something that weird.

It is not clear whether he means this in a good or bad way. I suspect that he doesn’t even know. But this description made me think that I really wanted to see this film. It isn’t playing anywhere, but I did manage to find its trailer:

Typically, viewers of the trailer have overwhelmingly panning it. There are 10 likes and 98 dislikes. This doesn’t speak to the quality of the film or the trailer. Instead, it speaks to the fact that people know that this film is supposed to be bad. It’s the same with Ed Wood films.[1]

I would still like to see the film. What I see in the trailer is a very creative effort. I suspect that those toddlers who have been able to see it have enjoyed it. And I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it eventually did very well in the DVD market.

[1] I wrote about this in comments on The 3 (or 7) Houses of Parliament:

I don’t mean to be ragging on Ed Wood above. I think rather highly of him. His films were always interesting. Wood was the first reason (I’ve since developed more) that I hate Michael Medved. Certainly anyone can see that Plan 9 is a far better film than Robot Monster, which for all of its silliness is very hard to watch. Or “Manos”: The Hands of Fate.

Of course, my opinion is that anyone who can complete any film on a shoestring deserves respect. I see $100 million films all the time that show no more imagination or insight. Think: almost any Marvel movie.

The Magnificent Ambersons

The Magnificent AmbersonsThe last time I watched The Magnificent Ambersons was about 17 years ago. If you don’t know what to expect, it can be a very upsetting film. But when I watched it today, it was mostly a delight.

When I first watched it, the film was going along swimmingly. And then the last scene — The last shot! — slapped me in the face. There should have been a warning card, “This film finished by an entirely different crew with no budget.” It is a terrible thing.

On this viewing, I noticed much more that bothered me. Yet the experience was far better. The third act itself is somewhat jarring. Whereas the first two acts are tightly scripted and produced, the third is episodic. The grand thematic arc that guided the earlier parts of the film breaks down. It seems as though the rest of the film was edited so as to rush to the denouement.

But those first two acts are well worth the time. In fact, they are probably the best thing Welles ever did. What’s most striking — although we see this in most other Welles films — is the perfect combination of staging, choreography, and camera work to tell a complex story with ease.

One scene is especially thrilling. Eugene has come to see the dying Isabel. George says he can’t see her. He pushes past George on his way to the stairs. Just then Fanny comes down the stairs telling him that George isn’t just being a jerk, it would be a bad time. Eugene begins to think better of the visit. Then we see Uncle Jack upstairs tell him to come back later. This is all done in 40 seconds with a single shot.

One thing that is really interesting about The Magnificent Ambersons is how it shows what a varied set of tools that Welles used. I tend to think of him as an aggressive editor. But this isn’t really the case. I think he depended upon a lot more editing in his later films because of the way he had to make them. Here we have scenes that are highly cut and others with fluid camera work, and still others with a static shot. Whatever works.

Welles is also great at not boring the audience. For example, there is no deathbed scene. Instead, we get Fanny walking up to George and hugging him. “George!” she says. “She loved you. She loved you.” Nuff said? Absolutely.

The Magnificent Ambersons stands as the ultimate indictment of our culture where commerce always trumps art. Even worse, it speaks to our basest nature where group politics gleefully destroy creative work in the name of sticking it to “them.” Nonetheless, all the great artists who worked on this film cannot be denied. The Magnificent Ambersons is still a priceless gem — if badly damaged.

Conservative Desperation

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I feel old, but that isn’t always a bad thing. One of the benefits is that I have a long memory. And whether it is on the national level or the micro level, I know desperation when I see it.

Michelle Goldberg uncovers some startling goings on deep in Conservative World, With ‘Dreams From My Real Father,’ Have Obama Haters Hit Rock Bottom? It discusses a new documentary that has reportedly been sent to over a million voters in swing states, and may eventually be sent to 2 million more. The DVD, Dreams from My Real Father is a riff on Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father. But in the tradition of other conservative propaganda like The Real Anita Hill, this film pretends to provide you with the truth that the mainstream outlets won’t tell you.

In the case of Dreams from My Real Father, this truth includes the fact that Obama’s real father was journalist, poet, and political and labor movement activist Frank Marshall Davis. Apparently, because Davis was married to a white woman, he must have seduced all white women. Hence, Davis and Ann Dunham are the true parents of the 44th President of the United States. But there’s more.

Davis was known to be a avid photographer. Therefore, he took pornographic pictures of Dunham and sold them to girly magazines in the early 60s. I swear I’m not making this stuff up about them making this stuff up. This reminds me of this guy who hung around my college in the early years. He believed that Stephen King was a homicidal maniac who was used as a hit man by the CIA. This is kind of like Chuck Barris’ autobiography (!) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, but a few years earlier. Coincidence? I think not!

In all seriousness, these claims are more nutty than offensive—and they are very offensive. But they are indicative of the current state of conservatism in America. Goldberg notes that this film is being “promoted by several Tea Party groups and by at least one high-level Republican.” What’s more, “Tea Party groups and conservative churches are screening it.” And perhaps most incredible, Dinesh D’Souza—a loon, but one who is taken very seriously by the mainstream—says in his book Obama’s America that his documentary 2016 is based on:

Ann’s sexual adventuring may seem a little surprising in view of the fact that she was a large woman who kept getting larger… Learning about Ann’s sexual adventures in Indonesia, I realized how wrong I had been to consider Barack Obama Sr. the playboy… Ann… was the real playgirl, and despite all her reservations about power, she was using her American background and economic and social power to purchase the romantic attention of third-world men. [Quote entirely from Michelle Goldberg’s article.]

This is what comes from calling centrists socialists. This is what comes from insisting that black presidents must be foreigners. This is what the conservative movement has reaped for what they have long sown.

But there is an upside to all this. It shows just how desperate and devoid of ideas the conservative movement is. For decades, I haven’t thought much of conservative thinking. But at least there was thinking going on. Now it is nothing but the dark id of fear and hatred.

According to Nate Silver, Romney now has a 16% chance of winning the election.

[From Karen Finney tweet to Hollywood Reporter article.]

Update (30 September 2012 1:42 pm)

I just realized. If Frank Marshall Davis is Obama’s father, then the President really is an American citizen. Yea!

Karateci Kiz as Art

Karateci KizYou’ve probably heard about Karateci Kiz (“Karate Girl”). Cyriaque Lamar at io9 claimed, this is the worst death scene ever committed to film. This claim is as silly as said death scene. But the internet loves this kind of thing; everything is the worst or best. But okay. It is certainly quite an interesting bit of film making.

Geek Tyrant notes that the video that has been making the rounds on the internet has been altered. During the death scene, a male scream is heard throughout. It takes what is already a silly scene and makes it ridiculous.

The story is that a bunch of bad guys killed the husband of our hero (Karate Girl), and she is going to take revenge. So it’s part of the great tradition of revenge theater—things like Titus Andronicus and The Duchess of Malfi. But while these plays are unbelievable in their details, Karateci Kiz is just unbelievable:

The death scene here is not bad. In fact, I would argue that it is brilliant. No compromise is made to continuity. I can’t imagine that this is an accident. What’s more, the bloody hand-prints on the wall is great.

I would think that people would understand the film makers’ intent. But I’ve seen this before. International Secret Police: Key of Keys—the film that Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? is based on—is a comedy. Secret Agent Super Dragon is a comedy.[1] I don’t know if Karateci Kiz is a comedy, but it is something other than a typical action film. And from what I’ve seen, it is better than the mega-hit The Expendables 2 (AKA “The Old Action Heroes’ Retirement Fund”).


I’m sure to get ridiculed by Andrea about this, but doesn’t the guy who dies look a lot like Rowan Atkinson?

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[1] Secret Agent Super Dragon was notably spoofed by MST3K. Here is my favorite scene. “It ain’t supposed to be commercial, man; it’s jazz!”

A Double Mystery

Laura HelmuthFirst, there was the strange case of the Romney-Ryan direct mail campaign, Doing more to fight the spread of Lyme Disease. The pamphlet claims that Lyme Disease is a, “Massive epidemic threatening Virginia.” Massive? I don’t know. I guess that it sucks if you get it, but only about 900 people get it in the state each year. That’s 0.01% of the population. Count me as one who will never visit Virginia because of the enormous chance of getting Lyme Disease!

My working theory is that the Romney campaign really isn’t that bad. They must be a bunch of smart people. But campaigning is hard. This direct mail campaign has me a bit confused, however. Perhaps Lyme Disease is a great concern to people in Virginia. Maybe it is an especially compelling pro-Romney argument for women. But I don’t think so. It sounds too much like an act of desperation. “Did you know that a thousand people are hit by lightning every year? That’s why Mitt Romney is dedicated to putting a lightning rod on every house. Paul Ryan will install it himself!”

As much of a mystery as this campaign pamphlet is, I’m even more confused about Laura Helmuth’s article in Slate, Why Is Romney Campaigning on Medical Quackery? It would be one thing if the article were one thing. But it isn’t. It’s flying off in a couple of directions. It starts off sounding very serious with information that indicates that depression is often misdiagnosed as Lyme Disease. Strange, but I have no doubt that it is true. But then she starts ranting—taking a few jabs at Romney. Finally:

The task force’s report makes some reasonable suggestions. People should be warned about the dangers of ticks. They should shower and do a tick-check after walking in tick habitat. We should shoot more deer.

Okay, after reading it several times, I guess that’s a good idea: kill some deer, because God knows, that is what you should do to stop Lyme Disease, which is really no big deal, because what you really have is depression.

By the end of the article, I’m not sure what the hell she’s trying to say, nor have I figured out the tone. And she writes, “I don’t mean to make fun of people who are suffering from what they think is chronic Lyme disease.” So I go back. Was she, “making fun”? Not that I can tell. But she ties it all together with a light and inspiring story about a girlfriend whose depression was misdiagnosed as Lyme Disease. And killed herself. And that’s why Mitt Romney should not be making a big deal out of bad treatments for Lyme Disease especially when it is really depression that we should be worried about.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree. Lyme Disease almost never kills and depression kills commonly. But Laura Helmuth’s column makes me wonder why I’m not writing for Slate. After all, I can write weird articles that are vaguely about various things but don’t exactly connect. Also: my official crush has moved from Karen Finney to Laura Helmuth (even though she is probably too young for me).

So there you are: a double mystery for the 2012 campaign. I’m thinking it would make a great movie, “Mitt Romney, Deer Ticks, and the Sassy Reporter.” Hollywood, here I come!

Matt Yglesias Too Busy Tweeting to Care About American Workers

Matt YglesiasMatt Yglesias is a writer for Slate. He mostly writes about the financial industry. (Although last night he was on a plane and so sending out a long string of the most banal tweets I’ve ever seen.) And he’s good; I read him every day. But he definitely has his blind spots and often falls ill with Serious Centrist Syndrome. This week, he got Corey Robin angry, and Robin is a mellow guy.

Yglesias wrote that there is a lot of labor organizing in China right now and that it is very much like the “heyday of western labor activism”—that is, not today. He claimed that the reason for this was that productivity in China has been going up but wages have not.

Wait! Did you catch that? Corey Robin did. When I saw the quote, I got a chill. I knew this was going to be good, because even I am capable of decimating Yglesias over his blindness about what’s been happening in America lo these several decades.

Oh really? Since 1973, labor productivity in the US has risen 80.4 percent. Yet median wages have increased only 4 percent, and median compensation as a whole—which includes benefits—has only increased 10.7 percent.

This is hardly a state secret; mainstream economists talk about it all the time. Which is why I was so puzzled by Matt’s claim.

So Corey Robin contacts Matt Yglesias. And Matt comes back with the lamest answer I’ve ever heard. Really, this may qualify him to quit Slate and take a high paying job at the Heritage Foundation. (You know: the people who invented Obamacare and then suddenly hadn’t heard of it as soon as a Democrat proposed it!) Yglesias responded, “I should explain the difference more clearly. US is a median issue, China is a mean issue.” Robin responds the way any reasonable person would, “I’m not clear what point he’s trying to make here.” And then he goes on to explain that economic principals show that this situation would make labor organizing in China less likely.

Then Robin finishes off with what has got to be a devastating attack:

And what about labor activism? Matt is right, of course, about the repressive Chinese state. But as I’ve long argued, a good deal of worker activism in the United States also gets repressed. One in 17 of every eligible voter in a union election gets illegally fired or suspended for his or her support for a union. While it’s true that the American state is not the equivalent of the Chinese state, it’s also true that a great deal of repression in the US has always been outsourced to the private sector—even in “the heyday of western labor activism.”

Over the summer, when Chris Bertram, Alex Gourevitch, and I were advancing our thesis about workplace tyranny, Matt repeatedly professed bafflement as to why we were even talking about this issue. Well, this is one reason: repression and coercion in the workplace actually prevent the union organizing that helps ensure that that growth in worker productivity translates into higher pay and benefits for workers.

Matt gets it. In China.

That’s got to hurt. Or it would if Matt Yglesias weren’t so busy tweeting.

Paul Krugman Cracks a Joke

On his blog today, Paul Krugman discusses three current Republican misconceptions. The first is how Romney is a bad candidate. Krugman notes that this may be true, but he’s not as bad as everyone else who ran. It is much the same argument that Saturday Night Live presented last week:

Interestingly, it isn’t just YouTube that deletes videos. This used to be an NBC-hosted video from Saturday Night Live but it doesn’t work anymore. What’s more, it throws up an alert box rather than failing gracefully. What a joke!

Krugman added his own joke. It’s an oldie, but it still makes me laugh:

The fact was that all the non-Mitts were awesomely terrible, indeed ludicrous. The only contender who even looked on paper like a real alternative, Rick Perry, turned out to have three major liabilities: he was inarticulate, he was slow on his feet, and I can’t remember the third (sorry, couldn’t help myself).

The second misconception is that Paul Ryan is doing an inexplicably bad job selling his budget “ideas.” Krugman notes that these ideas only ever appealed to Serious Centrists: people like Thomas Friedman who think that Serious Ideas must require a great deal of pain for the little people (that is, not themselves or any of their friends). “There was never any good reason to believe that voucherizing Medicare would be anything but desperately unpopular,” he writes.

And then Krugman brings up how Republicans are pinning their hopes on a repeat of the first presidential debate in 2004. I remember this one well. In fact, I recently mentioned it. But he reminds us that the issue in that debate was not that Kerry won but that Bush lost. I remember this clearly. Bush’s claim that the six-way talks with North Korea were the right way to go really stood out, because it was the only policy that he seemed to have a handle on. Krugman’s argument is that Romney may do okay, but it is extremely unlikely that Obama is going to come off as an idiot.

I agree on this point. However, that doesn’t mean that Romney won’t get some traction from the debate. My thinking is that the chattering classes are looking for any reason to give Romney a boost. This isn’t because they want him to win; they just think the race is boring and will be more so if Romney doesn’t start doing better. So I’m expecting a lot of headlines saying things like, “Romney Nails It!” Of course, Romney could be a disaster, in which case that will be, “Romney Nails Own Coffin.”

But the main thing is that Paul Krugman made a funny.

Infinity is Not a Number

InfinityAnswersInEddas has posted 3 videos criticizing William Lane Craig’s arguments for the existence of God. I’ve only watched the first, but it is very good and I plan to check out the others. I’m no fan of Craig. To be stupid is unfortunate; to be brilliant and use it to obfuscate is evil; William Lane Craig is evil.

The video quotes Craig making an argument against an eternal universe. As the author points out, this is a strange argument to make because no one argues for an eternal universe. But this is typical of Craig’s long history of setting up straw men and whacking them down. While this must feel good, it is intellectually dishonest and certainly doesn’t lead to new knowledge.

In this argument, Craig offers an example of how the universe could not always exist. It displays an astounding ignorance of mathematics. It is more what you would expect of a bunch of drunk college students debating the existence of God:

Take the plants Jupiter and Saturn. Suppose that for every orbit that Saturn completes, the planet Jupiter completes two. If Saturn has completed ten orbits, Jupiter completed twenty. If Saturn has completed a trillion, Jupiter has completed two trillion. The longer they orbit, the father Saturn falls behind. If they continue to orbit forever, they will approach a limit at which Saturn is infinitely far behind Jupiter. Suppose Jupiter and Saturn have been orbiting the sun from eternity past. Now which one will have completed the most orbits? Well, the correct mathematical answer is, the number of orbits is identical. But that seems absurd! For, the longer they orbit, the greater the disparity between them grows.


I understand that infinity is a tricky concept but this is a stunning lack of understanding. And to be used in this context is bizarre. I wasn’t being hyperbolic to compare this to the ravings of drunk college students.

Infinity is not a number. If you treat it like a number, you can come up with all kinds of paradoxes. This is why we don’t treat it as a number. We can, however, say a lot about it. One of the most basic ideas is that the set of integers is a countable infinity, while the set of real numbers is an uncountable infinity. And we know something else.

In William Lane Craig’s example, at infinity, Jupiter will have gone through twice as many orbits as Saturn. How do we know this? Because infinity is a limit. Craig got to this by looking at what happens to the system as it gets bigger and bigger (10 and then a trillion). But then he claims infinity is just some bigger value on the number line where reality has a discontinuity. Yikes!

I know that for people who don’t think about these things, infinity can be a tricky subject. But that’s not what’s going on with Craig here. I suspect that once he discovered this paradox, he never gave it another thought. That’s what William Lane Craig does. Arguments have one purpose: to prove the Bible is correct. As Robert Price has pointed out, Craig uses his considerable intellect and erudition in one giant clean-up operation. It’s a hell of a way to spend a life.

Majestic Equality of Law

Anatole FranceThe law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich and the poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.Anatole France

This is a great quote that cuts to the heart of conservative thought. This is exactly the thinking behind the flat tax. It is also why conservatives think of themselves as, well, “fair and balanced.” And when you think like that, you need a lot of balance!

While looking for the exact quote, I came upon another: “Remember: It’s Only Class Warfare When the Poor Fight Back.” It comes from a blog called The Angry Bureaucrat. The guy tends to be a bit wordy, but he has a lot to say, and—in great Frankly Curious fashion—on a lot of different subjects. Check him out.

Wake the Fuck Up

I hear this is from the same people who brought you the great Sarah Silverman Let My People Vote 2012 video. This time we get Samuel L. Jackson, who happens to say “Mother fucker!” better than anyone on the planet. I don’t have much to say other than that this is also a fucking great video:

Also: the little girl is adorable.

Update (28 September 2012 9:24 am)

I found the non-bleeped version:

I saw in comments that some people were asking, “What good will this do?” They seem to think it is an ad aimed at Romney voters or something. Just to be clear: it is part of a long history ads designed not to convince but to excite the already convinced. And it succeeds brilliantly.

Ayn Rand and Indians

Ayn RandThe first year I was in graduate school up in Oregon, I drove back and forth to the Bay Area a large number of times. One of the things I remember was hearing conservative talk radio. It was surprising to me just how often people would mention John Galt.

For those of you who have not read the novels of Ayn Rand (I don’t recommend it), John Galt is the hero of Atlas Shrugged. He’s an unapologetic capitalist who is rich because he is morally superior to the little (read: poor) people. And because the society is not licking his boots enough, he’s going to take his toys and go home. It really is that ridiculous, but if you want to see the hero rape the heroine, you’ll have to read Rand’s other opus, The Fountainhead (’cause chicks just love that).

I bring this up, because Ayn Rand’s presence in conservative politics has grown from the freaks on the fringe to the mainstream of the Republican Party. Who is John Galt? Mitt Romney is John Galt! (Paul Ryan just thinks he’s John Galt.)

Because I was once forced to marry a woman who was an Ayn Rand fan, I’ve read pretty much everything she’s ever written—at least in book form. And I think people miss the true horror show that is Ayn Rand when they focus just on her pseudo-free market beliefs. As bad as these are, there are even worse things

Let’s Play “Ayn Rand and Indians”!

In her Address to West Point in 1974, Ayn Rand had the following to say about the theft of Native American lands:

They didn’t have any rights to the land, and there was no reason for anyone to grant them rights which they had not conceived and were not using… What was it that they were fighting for, when they opposed white men on this continent? For their wish to continue a primitive existence, their “right” to keep part of the earth untouched, unused and not even as property, but just keep everybody out so that you will live practically like an animal, or a few caves above it. Any white person who brings the element of civilization has the right to take over this continent.

Okay, okay: this is vile. And it is racist. But that’s not even what I want to talk about here. This undercuts Rand’s basic philosophy in two ways.

First, this goes against Rand’s often stated claim that she was against violence. She often talked about the need for a “revolution of thought.” But here she is making a clear “might makes right” argument. “We don’t like what you’re doing with the land so we’re taking it.” Second, she is claiming that some outside authority knows better than a land owner what his land should be used for. Her thinking could as easily be used to justify the Nazi confiscation of Jewish property. You are either for the rule of law or you are not. Rand was not.

The End of History

What most strikes me in the quote above are the scare quotes around the word “right.” This is necessary for her to make her argument: our rights are real and their “rights” are illusory. But what kind of future does that provide for her philosophy? After all, aren’t other people going to come who don’t accept our “right” to exploit the land as we do?

The subtext of this is that we have reached the end of history. No better system of government could possibly be created than the one that Rand now sees. And this goes to something I often talk about: the libertarian (or conservative, more generally) belief that their preferred system is “natural.” The truth is that it is not. Humans naturally exhibit individualistic and communal tendencies and these are constantly jockeying for prominence. But even if the cut throat libertarian ideal were natural, is that good? Murder is natural. Rape is natural. But I wouldn’t want to base a society on them.

Rand, however, does want to base a society on them. She explicitly put rape as a positive act in one novel and one play. And murder by other means (e.g. starving the “moochers”) is found throughout her writing. But as we see in the case of the Native Americans, she was also for murder in a more explicit way.

And now some horrible combination of Ayn Rand and Old Time Religion are the core of the Republican Party.