Gena Rowlands’ Hair

Gena RowlandsOn this day in 1623, the great physicist (and much, much more) Blaise Pascal was born. In particular, he did a lot of work in fluid flow and invented the hydraulic press and the syringe. In addition to all of his work in science and mathematics, he was also quite an interesting theologian. Unlike Newton, his ideas are still of some interest. (Actually, I’m not sure that Newton’s theological ideas were ever of any interest.)

The Czech composer Johann Stamitz was born in 1717. During his lifetime, he was better known as a violinist. But his output as a composer was large. It’s always interesting to see how much people produced during this time. I think it was due to the fact that they didn’t have much else to do to entertain themselves. Someday, I’ll write about that in more depth. Anyway, Stamitz had two sons who were both at least as important as he was in terms of composition. Still, his music is very appealing. I would call his music Baroque, but he was certainly picking up on some of the stuff that would become classical. Here is the Ensemble Settecento performing the Andante from his Symphony in E-flat Major:

And then there is Alfredo Catalani who was born in 1854. Although he didn’t even live to be 40 due to tuberculosis, he wrote some extremely beautiful operas. He has sadly been all but forgotten. If you like opera at all, however, you will love the following 4 minutes of Renee Fleming performing “Ebben! Ne Andro Lontana” from Catalani’s most famous opera (that is occasionally performed), La Wally:

Moe Howard of The Three Stooges was born in 1897. When I was a kid, I hated the Stooges. But now I can appreciate the art. When I was young, the violence seemed far too realistic. Now it seems artful, almost like dance. It’s very impressive stuff. Film critic Pauline Kael was born in 1919. And musician Nick Drake was born in 1948. He is one of my very favorite musicians. Here is a video made for his song “Day Is Done”:

Author Salman Rushdie is 66. Ann Wilson of Heart is 63. Kathleen Turner is 59. And yet another blond conservative woman, Laura Ingraham is 49.

But in my long tradition of giving the day to personal crushes, this day belongs to Gena Rowlands who is 83 today. She is a great actor and the widow of one of my favorite filmmakers, John Cassavetes. Here is American Music Club’s Gena Rowlands song, “What Holds the World Together” (the wind that blows through Gena Rowlands’ hair):

Happy birthday Gena Rowlands!

Conservative Assault on Families

Phil GingreyWhen I was a kid growing up during the Cold War, there was one thing that most disturbed me. It was the same thing that disturbed everyone. Political systems, economic systems, those are important, but they aren’t personal. What was personal was how the power of the state was used to pit children against their families. The truth is, I don’t know how true that was. It could have all been propaganda. But the idea that one should love the state more than one’s family is typical of totalitarian governments.[1]

What has amazed me over the years is how conservatives do the same thing. I remember Reagan (it might have been Bush) praising a young girl for turning in her parents who were supposedly dealing cocaine. Because, you know, filial love should always be trumped by arbitrary drug laws. When I first read about that, I was horrified. But even more horrific was the fact that there was no push back in the mainstream press. It was as though the whole country had turned commie: yes Virginia, you really should honor the state ideology more than your parents.

Yesterday, I saw another example of this. George Republican Representative Phil Gingrey spoke on the floor of the House. He was arguing in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act. It appears that children are getting the wrong ideas about gender roles, so he suggested that our schools should step in:

You know, maybe part of the problem is we need to go back into the schools at a very early age, maybe at the grade school level, and have a class for the young girls and have a class for the young boys and say, you know, this is what’s important.

Where do children get their ideas about gender roles? I assume from their parents. But regardless, Gingrey doesn’t want to teach children; he wants to indoctrinate them. The funny thing is that if men really are better at some things than women are, then in general, they will end up doing them. The whole push is to tell little boys that they really ought to be playing with guns and throw those teddy bears away. But that shows a shocking lack of confidence in the validity of their position.

The main issue, however, is that conservatives like Gingrey are not against big government. They are only against big government in as much as it affects businesses. When it comes to individuals, they not only want a big government, they want an intrusive government. And that’s why I say that the Republican Party has become proto-fascist. They aren’t all the way there, but there are lots of green shoots. They want to enforce a limited range of religious beliefs. They want individuals to do what is best for the collective. They believe in crony capitalism. They are jingoistic in the extreme. They are nationalistic. They don’t like non-white races. Remember: hating the Jews was not a fundamental part of fascism (though it was of Nazism). I don’t see huge differences between the Republican Party and other explicitly fascist parties around the world today. And Gingrey is a great example of this.

[1] Jesus asked the same thing of his followers. Belief Net provides a good overview of some of Jesus’ anti-family sayings.

Grammar Problems Persist at Washington Post

Ezra KleinFor a long time, I said nothing. I hid my true feelings. I resisted the impulse to scream, “Doesn’t the Washington Post hire copy editors?!” Or even decent IT professionals, because the problem that most bugs me is more a technical problem than a grammar problem. And it is the kind of thing that ought to bother everyone because it is really obvious.

But I will be silent no longer. When the Washington Post was free, that was one thing. But now that they are charging $9.99 for 4 weeks, they ought to be able to get it together.

Here is a typical Wonk Blog error:

”The just completed presidential campaign strategy of playing it safe and assuming a poor economy would win it for us was an obvious mistake,” he writes.

That closing quote at the beginning of the sentence happens in most articles. But surprisingly, not consistently. I don’t know why it is, but there ought to be a simple solution, especially at this cost. But that isn’t the only kind of problem. There are all kinds of problems. Here is a similar one:

‘Soon,” Jindal promises.

But at least that single quote is opening. Thank God for small favors.

What If There Was No IRS Scandal?

Scandal?!At the beginning of the IRS scandal, I was really angry when the White House forced the resignation of IRS chief Steven T. Miller. Even at that time, it was well known that Miller was not in charge when the scandal was going on. It was Shirley Sherrod all over again. Our current president has no tolerance for even a whiff of scandal and there is no end to the number of people he will roll over on in order to keep himself safe. It’s pathetic. I know that I am a pretty bad follower and have little regard for leaders. But the one thing I do respect in a leader is loyalty and Obama again and again shows he is far more interested in systemic protection than justice or mercy for those working under him.

I’ve been thinking about this for the last few days. To start with, there was the claim by Holly Paz that the term “tea party” was not used to indicate a conservative political organization but any political organization. That could just be her perspective, especially given that she works in Washington and thus had relatively little contact with the Cleveland office. Then there was the revelation from Elijah Cummings’ release of all the hearing testimony that indicated that the IRS put similar groups together so that they would be consistent in their findings. All of this indicates that there isn’t even a scandal here.

Most of the media are only interested in this case as far as it may lead to the White House. Those on the right are screaming about how the White House must have been pushing the IRS to go after Obama’s enemies. Those on the left are screaming just as loudly that the White House had nothing to do with it and that it was entirely an internal IRS scandal. But no one seems particularly interested in asking the most basic question, “Was there any scandal at all?” It’s looking more and more like Norm Scheiber may have been overstating the scandal when he wrote:

Democrats can’t say it; Barack Obama can’t say it; and the IRS certainly can’t say it, so here goes: the only real sin the IRS committed in its ostensible targeting of conservatives is the sin of political incorrectness—that is, of not pretending it needed to vet all the new groups that wanted tax-exempt status, even though it mostly just needed to vet right-wing groups.

It might be even less than that. I doubt we will ever get to the bottom of it, though. As it becomes clear that this supposed scandal doesn’t reach to the White House, both sides will lose interest. But the Republicans will need to save face, so they will use the opportunity to vilify the IRS. The Democrats won’t push back because it doesn’t really touch them. In the end, it will be another turquoise socks controversy: no real evidence of wrong doing, but enough allegations that people assume something nefarious must have been going on.

More important to me is the fact that the whole nation can’t take the time to figure out what is really happening. This is an issue that I commonly deal with in talking to individuals about politics. People (conservatives especially but hardly exclusively) are forever getting angry about this or that outrage. But in almost all cases, the real situation is far more complex. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t real outrages, but it never hurts to slow down and find out a little more about the situation. Like in this case: would it really have hurt the country to wait and see if the IRS scandal was real before freaking out? Would it have hurt to allow Steven T. Miller to serve out his term? These are not life-and-death issues. We have time to figure out the truth.

Jack Lew’s New Signature

Jack LewAs I’ve reported before, Treasury Secretary Jack Lew has an odd signature. Essentially, it is just a bunch of circles. When he was nominated Treasury Secretary, there was much discussion about how horrible his signature would look on our currency. Given that we have a pyramid topped with an eye on our cash, I hardly see how Lew’s curious signature could bring down its aesthetic quality. In my opinion, our cash is quite ugly. Whenever I go outside the country, I am struck by how much more attractive (And harder to counterfeit!) almost any other currency is. But I will allow that ours is getting better.

For those who do not remember Jack Lew’s signature, here it is:

Jack Lew's Signature

But that was then. Jack Lew has changed his signature. And guess what? Now people are complaining about the new signature! The Huffington Post commented, “Now it’s not only indecipherable, but boring too!” And they document a number of others who are none too impressed. Here it is:

Jack Lew's New Signature

For the record, I think this is a great new signature. It is still charming without being nearly as ostentatious. What’s more, it is not indecipherable at all. Lew’s full name is Jacob Joseph Lew. I clearly see the J-J-L. As for the rest, who cares? My signature is no more accurate—it is basically F-[squiggle]-M-[squiggle]. But what’s more interesting is that the man just can’t catch a break. Most people’s signatures really do look dreadful. Both of Lew’s signatures are pretty and distinctive. What more must a signature be?