Music for Spies

Secret Agent Super DragonMatt Yglesias wrote a great economic deconstruction of the film Goldfinger, Economics of Goldfinger: James Bond as the Enforcer for Harold Wilson’s Doomed Austerity Policies. In it he argues that Goldfinger is basically a good guy, pushing against the bad gold policies of the western powers and James Bond is just a rube being used in a kind of “wag the dog” operation. I’m not going to say more about it. You should read it.

I bring it up only to mention that it got the song “Goldfinger” going through my head. I’ve always liked the song, especially the great singing by Shirley Bassey and the dense production by George Martin. So I found it on the internet and listened to it. Here is a live version. Check it out and pay close attention to those raspy trumpets:

It was only when I listened to it that I realized that one of my favorite Mystery Science Theater 3000 bits was a parody of this song. It was a hosted segment for the film Secret Agent Super Dragon. It was a 1966 Italian spy movie very much in the tradition of Goldfinger. In fact, the filmmakers may even have seen the film as a kind of parody like International Secret Police: Key of Keys. It is certainly true that the film on its own is amusing.

On MST3K, Tom Servo has written this song and he gets Joel to play bass and Crow to play trumpet. At one point, Crow mentions that he only knows two notes. If you listen to “Goldfinger” again, you will hear that the trumpet refrain in that song is only three notes. Anyway, the sequence is funny and the music is really good. I never tire of it:

Chop on this, pal!

The Politics of Niceness

Daniel SnyderJonathan Bernstein made a great point over at his blog about the naming of the Washington Redskins, The Question Is Etiquette, Not “Racism.” The title says it all: it doesn’t matter whether or how the term “redskin” is offensive, if our native American brothers and sisters don’t like the term, we shouldn’t use it. After all, as a group, have they not suffered enough? The United States government committed a genocide against them. Not naming mascots after culturally offensive stereotypes sounds like the least we could do.

Bernstein brings up another point that we may refer to as, “Why does mom get to call you that?” This is in reference to situations like that where my mother calls me Frankie, but I prefer to be called Frank. Why does my mother get to call me that but not you? I don’t know and I don’t have to provide you with an answer. It’s just the way it is. If you call me Frankie, it’s not going to kill me. But it does mean that you’re an asshole. (For the record, it is fine to call me Frankie, although those so inclined make my name cuter tend to go with Frannie.)

He doesn’t mention it, but he’s clearly talking about the surprisingly common conservative lament that African Americans can use the word “nigger” but whites can’t. (I actually think that the words that they use is “nigga,” which is a different, although derivative word.) This has always struck me as a bizarre complaint. Do such people think they are missing out by not being able to use that word? I dare say most of these people go their whole lives without the more useful “pulchritude” and never seem to miss it. But the more important point is that I’m sure that any African American would be willing to trade use of the word for just a fraction of the privilege that whites have in this country.

This all follows the announcement by Slate that it will no longer refer to the Washington team by “Redskins.” This is just a change in their style guide, but such changes are important. (Grammar is important!) After all, newspapers changed their style guides in the 1960s to remove “negro” and “colored.” So this stuff really does matter and it really does make a difference. This is all part of the fight against the offensive name and the bigger the battlefield gets, the more likely the name will change. And eventually, the name will change, if only because Daniel Snyder dies or sells the team. (Note: I’m sure he doesn’t see himself this way, but Daniel Snyder is an asshole and likely a bigot as well.)

Bernstein’s insight is an important one. Most of what is important in life is just about acting like a decent human being. Perhaps the biggest argument against libertarianism is simply that all its talk of marginal increases in freedom (an abstract concept under most circumstances) is nonsense in comparison to the needs of people who are literally starving thanks to a system that may tend to maximize freedom but doesn’t come close to fairness. So maybe we should all just treat each other with the dignity that all humans deserve. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop calling out people like Daniel Snyder for the assholes they are.

Washington Post Continues Jeff Bezos Whitewash

Jeff BezosAs you’ve probably heard, Jeff Bezos has purchased the Washington Post. And I’ve had nothing to say about it because, really, could the Washington Post get any worse? I like Ezra Klein and Greg Sargent, even though they often irritate me. But that isn’t primarily what the Post is. When it comes to straight news, I most certainly do not go to them. And now the Post is by subscription and it costs the same amount as the New York Times! That’s outrageous to me. So who really cares who owns the paper?

Even more annoying is how much coverage of the sale there has been in the Washington Post itself. So I guess we can add Jeff Bezos to the Posts‘ other obsessions like deficit reduction and entitlement cuts. Many of those articles came from the Ezra Klein group itself. Based upon his own twitter feed, there are nine articles with “Bezos” in the title. And I’m sure they’ve written about the sale without putting his name in the title. Very wonky!

Outside the Washington Post blog ghetto, it is also big news. Tricia Duryee wrote, Five Myths About Jeff Bezos. Dean Baker—a longtime critic of the paper—took no time in noting that with the article the Post was already starting its disinformation campaign. Two of the five myths are not, in fact, myths.

According to Duryee, the first myth is that Amazon is destroying independent bookstores. With online sales now at 48% of all book purchases, this one is hard to take. But the idea that independent bookstores are just destined to disappear is a typical canard of a certain kind of upper middle class journalist who works for places like the Post. It goes right along with globalization: there’s nothing that can be done! But while they think that, they ignore all the ways that the government allows globalization to affect the poorer classes while protecting the upper classes. The mechanism by which Amazon has been helped by government policy is the basis of the second non-myth.

According to Duryee, the fourth myth is “Amazon’s key advantage is that it doesn’t collect state sales tax.” As Baker noted, through most of its existence, Amazon has effectively received a 7% subsidy from the government that other companies did not have. That’s huge because this is more than the profit margins of big retailers. For example, Walmart’s margin is just 6%. Thus, the government has provided a huge advantage to Mr. Libertarian’s bookstore.

Duryee even went into some big apologetics on this point. She wrote, “Amazon says it is not opposed to the collection of sales tax—as long as there’s a simple, national system that is applied to all sellers, no matter their business model, location or level of sales.” But that is the standard way that one justifies beings against laws that are clearly right. Of course Amazon is for all companies paying sales tax. They just can’t support the current system because of some problem. And that problem bounces around to wherever it needs to so that Amazon never has to be for it.

It has been an embarrassing week for the Washington Post. I just hope it improves next week. No one really cares who owns the newspaper. Articles like Duryee would appear with or without Jeff Bezos.

Update (11 August 2013 9:27 pm)

CounterSpin has a great interview about this with David Cay Johnston where he refers to the Washington Post editorial page as having, “An incredible odor of white privilege.” That’s about right!

Transforming Otto Blathy

Otto BlathyThe early Classical period composer Joseph Schuster was born on this day back in 1748. He was mostly known for his operas, but he also wrote a lot of music for small string sections. In fact, his Milan Quartets were long thought to be by Mozart. Here is his String Quartetto No. 5:

Actor Lloyd Nolan was born in 1902. He is best known for his role as the father in Hannah and Her Sisters, even though he was dead of cancer at the age of 83 by the time of the film’s release. The great Japanese film composer Yuji Koseki was born in 1909. Here is a classic of his, “Mothra’s Song”:

Novelist Angus Wilson was born in 1913. Historian Alex Haley was born in 1921. Talk show host Mike Douglas was born in 1925. Cool Hand Luke director Stuart Rosenberg was born in 1927. Evil Christian Jerry Falwell was born in 1933.

More or less the inventor of crystallographic electron microscopy, Aaron Klug is 87. Marilyn vos Savant is 67. She is said to be very smart. I’ve never gotten that impression. She is, however, a pretentious asshole. Apple co-founder (the living one) Steve Wozniak is 63. He’s the guy who said, “Apple is not a computer; it’s a lifestyle.” And he said it as if that were a good thing. Computers are tools. The whole “Apple lifestyle” business makes me sick. And the idiotic conservative affirmative action case, David Brooks is 52.

The day, however, belongs to Hungarian electrical engineer Otto Blathy who was born on this day in 1860. He is best known for co-inventing the modern electrical transformer. So in a sense, the modern world is his fault. He invented a number of other important things, mostly having to do with alternating current. He also created chess puzzles. Truly a great man.

Happy birthday Otto Blathy!