Amedeo Modigliani

Modigliani - Self PortraitOn this day in 1817, Henry David Thoreau was born. He seems like he was an all right kind of guy: against slavery, and all. But that’s always struck me as kind of an easy issue to be on the right side of. At least it was if you didn’t have any economic interest in it. Thoreau did not. Mostly, he’s always struck me as just a kind of Romantic period idiot. His thinking was very typical of the time. Regardless, I have a soft spot for people who die of tuberculosis. And by the way, that is by far the most romantic disease to die from.

The great French marine painter Eugene Boudin was born in 1824. Revolutionary philosopher Nikolay Chernyshevsky was born in 1828. With a name like Chernyshevsky, he’s got to be good. The inventor of roll film, George Eastman was born in 1854. Russian Romantic composer Anton Arensky was born in 1861. Here is a performance of some of his variations on a theme by Tchaikovsky. (Look, I’m not that fond of him. He isn’t bad. But I’m trying to teach you knuckleheads something!)

A really intense and interesting artist, Bruno Schulz was born in 1892. Not a favorite of mine, but a great lyricist nonetheless, Oscar Hammerstein II was born in 1895. Exceptional poet Pablo Neruda was born in 1904. Big dicked comedian Milton Berle was born in 1908. The great American painter Andrew Wyeth was born in 1917.

And Mark Hatfield, was born in 1922. Normally, I don’t list politicians here. But Hatfield was something special. He was a Republican and an Evangelical Christian. Yet he was against school prayer. He was for gay rights back when the vast majority of Democrats were against it. And most of all, he was anti-war. He stood for things that were real, as opposed to most Republicans now who either only believe in power or believe in vague concepts like “freedom” that they don’t seem to know much about. But the real reason I’m mentioning Hatfield today is that he retired from the Senate almost 15 years before he died. He didn’t have to; he was popular in Oregon. But he let others move on and went back to teaching. It bothers me when old politicians die in office. Look, I liked Robert Byrd. But did he really think he should have been a Senator at 92? It is the height of narcissism. Hatfield had class and dignity.

Bill Cosby is 76 today. When I was younger, I thought he was rather funny. Now I just know him as this old curmudgeon. And I don’t mean that in a good way. Here he is doing his thing, that I know I once would have found funny, but now I find tired and even offensive:

The great journalist Robert Fisk is 67. Fitness trainer Richard Simmons is 65, and I do hope I won’t be seeing any more of him—not because I don’t like him, just because I don’t want to see him anymore. And yet another of my crushes, actor Tamsin Greig is 47.

The day, and this one is not even close, belongs to one of my favorite painters Amedeo Modigliani, who was born on this day in 1884. It isn’t that I necessarily think his technique is great. The truth is that I don’t really know. But I love his style and I love what he does with it. Unlike, say, Paul Klee (who I also greatly admire), I never get bored with it. Of course, the fact that he was pretty much exclusively a figurative artist helps. I don’t know why (maybe because I’m a human), I just like pictures of humans. Also, he died very young; with more time, he might have run out of ideas. Anyway, here is a portrait of another unique artist, Chaim Soutine:

Modigliani - Portrait of Chaim Soutine

Happy birthday Amedeo Modigliani!

A Better Lethal Injection

Lethal InjectionThere is another one of those “Should we kill mentally retarded murders?” cases. Now it is Warren Lee Hill Jr, who the state of Georgia wants to kill. I’m against the death penalty regardless. However, it has never been made clear to me how intelligence matters in these cases. I understand with kids. But it seems to me that if a mentally retarded person is less culpable for a murder, why isn’t a genius more culpable. (This is the kind of thinking that causes people like Rocco Pendola to say I’m idiotic.) But I hope that Hill doesn’t get killed by the state—just not because he’s isn’t bright.

Democracy Now! reports that Hill will be killed with an injection of pentobarbital. This is good news because finally at least some government killing programs are being reasonable about how they murder people. In the past, it has been the ridiculous drug cocktail where first they knock you out, then they paralyze you, then they induce a heart attack. The problem was always that this is potentially a very painful thing. For example, that first drug might not put the victim to sleep. And just the thought that you might have to die that way is a form of torture—much less the experience itself.

All along, I’ve wondered why these killers didn’t just give their victims massive doses of barbiturates. That works really well. Just ask Marilyn Monroe. She died primarily from an overdose of barbiturates—specifically, pentobarbital, the drug that the state of Georgia is itching to give to Hill. It is said that he has an IQ of 70. To me, that doesn’t seem like mentally retarded, just slow. Regardless, that is smart enough to know what is going on and to worry about how they plan to kill you.

The use of barbiturates for lethal injection is not just good news for those who the state decides to put to death; it is good news for everyone. I understand the arguments for the death penalty. I might even accept them if we had anything close to an equitable justice system. But I can see why people are attached to the idea of a death penalty. I cannot, however, see why anyone would think that it was proper to make these people suffer while their lives are ended. Death by barbiturates is a good way to go. I hope I die so painlessly.

Grand Obstruction Party

Americans United for Change

Americans United for Change made the following ad highlighting GOP obstruction in the Senate. It is well done. But it doesn’t go into the kind of depth that I would like. What is so annoying about what has happened in the Senate is that for the first time—Let me say that again: for the first time!—the media report filibusters as though they were normal votes. It is common to hear things like, “The bill was voted down on a party line vote of 55-45”! Really?! It was voted down as though everyone knows that normal Senate procedure is that you have to get 60 votes for everything. This is, by the way, one of the many subtle ways that “objective” media distort the news. The way that norms are maintained is by people noting extreme behavior when it happens. If everyone treats the disregard for norms as de rigueur, those norms are not long for this world.

But what you really need to know about Senate obstruction is that whenever the Democrats are in the minority, the number of filibusters stays constant or goes down. Whenever Republicans are in the minority, the number of filibusters goes up—way up. See for yourself:

Filibuster by Party

So despite what Megan McArdle may think is “arguably” the truth, this is a Republican Party problem. And unless everyone stands up and admits this, there is no downside for bad behavior. And it will continue.

Joe Fleherty and Ancient Messages

Joe FlahertyYou probably remember Back to the Future Part II—certainly the weakest of the franchise. But the end was good: a Western Union messenger shows up to give Marty the 70 year old letter from Doc that tells him what has happened and sets up the last movie. Well, that courier was played by a personal favorite of mine, Joe Flaherty from SCTV. We don’t see him around that much in movies. I have my theories as to why that is, but the main thing is that he’s brilliant.

Anyway, last night, I noticed that the last thing watched on my Netflix account was Family Guy—probably because my niece was using the account. So I put it on, because I find the show amusing and I was being lazy/depressed. And on came the episode “The Big Bang Theory.” In it, Stewie uses his time machine to embarrass Brian. The two of them get into a fight that flings them outside the space-time continuum. They manage to get back by being the original Big Bang that started the universe. That’s a nice bit of existential paradox that I quite liked.

Further on in the show, Stewie’s rival Bertram goes back in time to kill Leonardo da Vinci, who Stewie is descended from. He manages to do so, and Stewie is forced to hang around in the 15th century to fix the problem. Meanwhile, he sends Brian back to, well (sorry), the future. Once there, a Vatican messenger shows up and gives him a letter from Leonardo da Vinci (Stewie) explaining what to do next. Very Back to the Future, right?

So the voice of the messenger was performed by… Joe Fleherty. And yes, I know: only freaks notice this kind of very inside joke. And only extreme freaks proudly write articles about it. But it is very cool. And as I said, Fleherty doesn’t get that much work, so that’s all the better.


All of us are a lot more like alligators than we think: stimulus-response. I know that I am very much this way. My friend Will is too. I could call him up right now and mention that I had watched Family Guy, and he would immediately tell me how inappropriate it is for children. He mistakenly watched it with his kids once. Now he will tell me this, despite the fact that I have repeated told him that Family Guy is not for children. We are back to the days when many cartoons are meant for adults. In the case of Family Guy, the violence disturbs me. So I probably wouldn’t let my kids (if I had any) watch it, although I think Will doesn’t like the inappropriate behavior that his children mimic. This is the same reason most parents don’t like their children exposed to me! But I digress. I think it is fine to let children watch it, as long as you understand that it isn’t for them.

Megan McArdle Ridiculous Anti-Filibuster-Reform Argument

Megan McArdleMegan McArdle decides to start this morning by arguing in favor of keeping the filibuster just the way it is. It’s really keen, you see. She likes “its broad use against as many laws as the minority likes.” And she would. She’s a conservative. In theory (that is, while liberals are in the White House), conservatives believe in doing as little as possible. What she doesn’t like is what “the Republicans are doing with it against presidential nominees.” But she follows it immediately with a stunning bit of apologetics, “Democrats arguably started it.” And then she drops the issue altogether. The problem is that the only change to the filibuster that the Democrats are set to make is to fix the one problem that she sees. But she says it is too small a problem to risk further erosion of the filibuster.

She next throws out some numbers that as far as I can tell have been ripped straight out of her ass. There is a 0% chance that the Democrats will take back the House in 2014. While the number is certainly not that low, I take the point. But I don’t understand what it has to do with the Senate forbidding the filibuster on executive branch nominees. No one is talking about a full repeal of the filibuster. So who cares? But McArdle is just getting warmed up. She tells us that there is a 70% chance Republicans will control the White House, Senate, and House as of 2017. I don’t even know where she gets that number. The only way you can get that high a chance is if you assume that the Republicans have a 90% chance of winning the White House, Senate, and House. McArdle, of course, doesn’t link to any source for her claim. All I can assume is that it comes from Dick Morris.

She’s using this 70% number to say, “Be afraid Democrats!” The problem is, as I’ve argued just about every time I’ve discussed the filibuster, is that the Republicans will destroy the entire filibuster the moment they have this situation. McArdle, trying to sound like a wise sage says, “Republicans could go nuclear themselves in 2017, you may say. And that’s certainly a risk. But in fact, I think they will be as skittish about it as the Democrats have so far proven.” Well then, there’s nothing to worry about! Megan McArdle, based upon her intimate knowledge of federal level Republicans thinks that they wouldn’t do such a thing. I feel so much better.

Or I did, until I remembered that in 2005, the Republicans were going to limit the filibuster substantially more than the Democrats are now proposing. And the only reason they didn’t was the Gang of 14 made a deal that turned out to mean, “As long as the Democrats never filibuster judicial nominees, the filibuster stays.” And doncha know, as soon as the Republicans were in the minority, the filibuster was being used more than ever but the Gang of 14 quietly disbanded. Funny that!

So McArdle wants us to think that the 2017 Republicans Senate will be less radical than the 2005 Republican Senate. I don’t think that she would be arguing this if things were reversed. I’m not saying that she would necessarily be arguing for filibuster reform. But in 2005, I can’t find her taking a stand on the issue. But it is hard to say, all her archives at The Atlantic seem to have been removed.

McArdle’s main argument is that the “small” advantage the Democrats get from this minor reform of the filibuster is not worth the “large” danger that the Republicans will reform it themselves in retaliation when they are in the position to do so. I’ve already pointed out that it is a near certainty that the Republicans will reform, if not abolish, the filibuster regardless of what the Democrats do now. But the other half of her argument is equally flawed. Given the Republican House, the only way that Obama gets anything done these next three and a half years is through direct executive action and that means he needs this. This small change would have big benefits. And the danger is basically zero.

But how can we take any of McArdle’s argument seriously when she seems to believe that the Republicans are overwhelmingly favored to hold the White House, Senate, and House in 2017? That’s the kind of thing you say when your argument is more based on panic than analysis.

Update (12 July 2013 10:25 am)

McArdle has another article where she defends her 70% estimate. Basically, she argues that she thinks this because she thinks this. She rightly points out the the House and White House are not independent variables (she doesn’t put it that way, of course). But she thinks the Republicans have a 75% chance to win the White House because Hillary Clinton is old. But even under the best of assumptions, that would put the chance of them winning all three at much less than 70%. I’m always intrigued to see how otherwise smart people deal with statistics. They seem to think it is like alchemy and they can do anything they want. My advice to McArdle: in the future stay away from statistics; you don’t get it.